22nd Mar 2018

Bulgaria heading for more instability after snap elections

  • Bulgarians have taken to the streets several times over the past year (Photo: georgeXchelebiev)

Bulgaria’s centre-right GERB party was the winner in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, but fell short of gaining an absolute majority.

A total of eight parties are set to make it into parliament, paving the way for a shaky coalition after the second snap elections held in Bulgaria in the last 18 months.

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With 97 percent of the votes counted by the Central Electoral Commission on Monday morning, GERB got around 33 percent of the votes (32.66%) or 85 to 90 seats in the 240-seat parliament.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) got 15.34 percent and was neck-and-neck with the Turkish minority party DPS at 14.79 percent. Voter turnout was around 49 percent.

The result is a major blow for the BSP, following a similar bad result in the European elections in May (19%).

Both BSP and DPS backed the highly unpopular government of Plamen Oresharski which resigned in August following a year of street protests.

GERB – the party of former bodyguard Boyko Borisov, who was Prime Minister from 2009 to 2013 and whose own government was forced to resign in February 2013 following nationwide protests – will now have to enter into talks with the other parliament-represented parties to discuss forming a government.

Apart from GERB, BSP and DPS, five other parties were on course to pass the four-percent margin and make it into parliament: the rightist Reformist Block (8.92%); the left-wing ABV led by former president Georgi Parvanov (4.16%); the populist Bulgaria Without Censorship of TV-host-turned-politician Nikolay Barekov (5.6%), as well as two nationalist formations – the Patriotic front (7.3%) and Ataka (4.53%).

With these results, the most stable – mathematically – government would be a grand coalition between GERB and BSP, but whether this can happen remains to be seen.

Speaking moments after the first results were announced, Borisov indicated he wanted to form a government and be prime minister.

But he also made it clear that was not guaranteed.

"Under this configuration, I do not see how a government can be formed," he told reporters, adding that the worst case scenario would be to have another election before Christmas.

For his part, BSP leader Mihail Mikov said that the Socialists would be in opposition in the next parliament, while supporting all “nationally responsible” decisions in legislation.

Political analysts comment that with a parliament that fragmented, forming a stable government will be difficult and further snap elections in the coming months are not unlikely.

Upcoming issues

Yet the fifth Bulgarian government to be formed in two years will have a series of important issues to solve in the coming months.

One is to decide the future of Corporate Commercial Bank, Bulgaria's fourth-biggest bank, which was closed after a run on deposits in June, and has not been reopened since.

It would also have to decide how to proceed with the Russia-backed South Stream Pipeline aimed at diverting gas from Ukraine across the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Serbia and central Europe.

Following pressure from Brussels, which wants to decrease the EU’s dependency on Russian gas, Bulgaria has frozen its participation in the project until it falls in line with EU rules, but question marks remain as to its future involvement.

And with a recent new hike in energy prices (by almost 10% from 1 October), the upcoming winter risks seeing another wave of discontent in Bulgaria.

In addition, general economic growth in the country is slow, unemployment is high and important reforms need to be carried out in key sectors such as the judiciary, healthcare and education.

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