With a parliamentary majority proving elusive, Bulgaria appears destined for another election. That’s about all anyone can predict with any degree of certainty.
Uncertainty is the only certainty in Bulgarian politics these days.
Since an inconclusive election on April 4, both the winner – long-time ruling party GERB – and the second-placed upstarts ‘There’s Such a Nation’ have failed to cobble together a majority in parliament, meaning the baton will pass to the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP.
The BSP is anathema to many oppositionists in Bulgaria due to its roots in the now-defunct Communist Party, its conservative values and pro-Russian politics.
President Rumen Radev, a critic of GERB’s rule, will offer the BSP the mandate to form a government on May 5. It looks unlikely to succeed, with party leader Kornelia Ninova saying admitting as much on May 1. “Everyone is against everyone,” she said. “No one could calm their ego.”
Instead, a caretaker cabinet – known in Bulgaria as an ‘expert’ cabinet – will take the reins until a fresh election can be held in the summer.
But while the BSP has scant hope of forming a government, the party stands to benefit from the power now vested in Radev, whom the BSP backed for president and who will pick the caretaker cabinet.
Alexei Lazarov, the managing editor of Capital Weekly, said that, politically at least, Bulgaria had entered a wilderness, with no one in full control.
“Until the next elections take place – and probably for sometime after – power will be concentrated in the president. This is one of the few relatively clear things about the foreseeable political future,” Lazarov wrote in the latest issue of Capital Weekly.
“If someone tells you they know what will happen in Bulgarian politics in the coming months, do not believe a word of it,” he wrote. “The actions of the main players – including the decisions that are likely to lead to another election – are not motivated by any strategy. What is happening is almost entirely a spontaneous reaction to current events.”
GERB seen losing more votes in re-run
The GERB party of outgoing Prime Minister Boyko Borissov won the April election but saw its vote share slashed and its governing allies banished. Its opponents, however, are deeply divided. The BSP suffered a humiliating defeat and can ill-afford to compromise with GERB in order to enter office, analysts say.
“For BSP to make amends with GERB to create some form of coalition would be political suicide for Kornelia Ninova,” said Alexey Pamporov, associate professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
Meanwhile, the leader of ‘There’s Such a Nation’ [also known as There’s Such People’], TV celebrity Slavi Trifonov, appears to be happy for a re-run in the summer, when, according to an opinion poll published on April 29, GERB may see its margin of victory cut to dramatically.
According to the poll, Trifonov’s party would win 20.3 per cent, up from 17.66 per cent in April and only narrowly behind GERB, which would drop from 26.18 per cent to 21.3. Returning the mandate to Radev on April 26, Trifonov said he would not rely on the support of “toxic, greedy and clearly compromised” parties.
Pamporov said Trifonov had already taken steps to improve the party’s standing further, elevating the likes of MP Mika Zaykova, the oldest member of parliament who is winning over fans with her sense of humour and socially-engaged rhetoric, new parliament speaker Iva Miteva and prime ministerial candidate Antoaneta Stefanova, a Bulgarian chess champion.
Trifonov is distancing himself from the notion his party is heavy on ego and light on expertise, Pamporov told BIRN.
“He’s empowering women and showing he’s supported by people with professional reputation,” he said. “At the same time, he’s a conservative and neoliberal.”
GERB, meanwhile, “has lost its aura,” Pamporov said.
Who’s ‘brave enough’ to join caretaker cabinet?
The opinion poll, by Market Links, gave no sign of a revival of fortunes for the Bulgarian far-right, with IMRO, GERB’s nationalist partner in the last government, seen winning only three per cent of the vote, not enough to enter parliament.
Pamporov, however, said a far-right coalition was a big possibility and that Bulgarian Summer of Vassil Bojkov could do well, albeit with the help of alleged vote-buying.
There is also movement among parliamentary newcomers Democratic Bulgaria and ‘Stand Up.BG! Mobsters Out!’, with some members of the latter switching to the former just before the April election. Pamporov said other members of ‘Stand Up’ might also turn to smaller leftist parties in order to develop a possible alternative to the BSP.
“That’s a space that could be filled, as there are so many young people willing to vote left but are long disillusioned with BSP,” he said.
Parliament, meanwhile, has been compared to a Netflix drama, its boisterous, heated sessions dragging on for hours. GERB and Borissov have come in for heavy criticism and a commission has been created to review the spending of the outgoing government.
Significant amendments have been made to the country’s electoral code, including lifting certain restrictions on voting outside the EU with particularly ramifications for Bulgarian voters in Britain.
Sociologist Parvan Simeonov of pollster Gallup International was unimpressed, telling Bulgarian national radio on April 28: “The only thing that this parliament is expressing is total chaos.”
“History usually repeats itself more as farce, rather than tragedy,” he said.
Pamporov predicted some “very interesting months” to come, with much riding on Radev.
“Essentially, the president has embarked on an active campaign and it will be intriguing to see what kind of office he’ll form, as his own success will depend on it,” he told BIRN.
“It’s also interesting to see who is brave enough to accept being part of it, and who will refuse.”