24th Mar 2019

Bulgaria elects new MEPs amid corruption worries

  • Sofia - the vote was seen as a form of protest against the government (Photo: wikipedia)

Political groups in the European Parliament will see a small reshuffle following Bulgaria's first European elections, with the ruling socialists suffering a setback, while anti-corruption and far-right groupings scored well.

The vote was marked by low turnout – 26 percent – and public frustration over corruption.

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According to preliminary results, the Socialist Party led by the country's prime minister, Sergey Stanishev, has secured five MEP seats, as many as its centre-right rival, Citizens for European development of Bulgaria (GERB), which entered the political arena in December 2006, capitalising on the government's backsliding on anti-corruption reforms.

The ultranationalist Ataka party also had a strong showing and is likely to send three MEPs to Brussels, strengthening the new far-right political group - Identity, Traditions and Sovereignty - which is based on an anti-EU, anti-Turkey and anti-immigration programme. Ataka currently has one far-right MEP in the European Parliament.

Bulgaria's two smaller governmental parties – the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms and the former king Simeon's National Movement – are likely to scoop respectively four seats and one seat. Both groupings are part of the European Parliament's liberal faction.

The country's first-ever European elections – widely seen as a popularity test for ruling politicians – further highlighted public frustration over corruption and poverty - only just over a quarter of Bulgaria's 6.7 million voters cast their ballot.

Earlier this month, a major graft scandal hit the ruling coalition, forcing Bulgaria's prime minister to suspend the economy and energy minister and sack two his deputies who had been accused of interfering in official investigations of high-level corruption.

"The vote is a clear slap in the face for the government. Its public credibility has weakened and the pressure on it to step up the fight against crime has risen," local political analyst Rumiana Bachvarova was cited as saying by Reuters.

Bulgaria – together with its neighbour Romania - faces an unprecedented regime of continued EU monitoring, as it got the green light for EU entry only on the condition that after accession it would meet certain benchmarks on crime and corruption.

The two Balkan countries are currently at risk of legal and financial sanctions from Brussels - possibly soon after a progress report (27 June) – with some EU states even indicating the newest members were admitted too soon to the club.

According to national media, Bulgarian courts have not sentenced anybody for more than 150 mafia-style murders since 2001.

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