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Bulgaria: Ex-PM Borissov Scents Power After Election Comeback

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By Svetoslav Todorov

The centre-right GERB party, led by former prime minister Boyko Borissov, are the projected winners of Sunday’s elections, the fourth since April 2021 amid Bulgaria’s long-running political deadlock.

As of early Monday morning, with 99.03 per cent of the ballots processed by the Central Electoral Committee, GERB (running alongside the United Democratic Forces) was leading with 25.4 per cent of the vote. Its achievement is being seen as a comeback for the party.

Borissov governed for most of the period between 2009 and early 2021 but lost public trust and saw his reputation tarnished after numerous allegations of involvement in corruption, ties with oligarchs and infringements on media freedom, which caused widespread protests.

GERB lost the last two general elections in July 2022 (to the There’s Such a People party) and November 2021 (to We Continue the Change).

But Borissov shrugged off suggestions that it would be a surprise if his party returned to the top. “I’m not sure what kind of news I can give you or what news are you expecting of me,” he told local media, after voting in Sofia on Sunday.

Seven or eight parties will have seats in the future parliament.

GERB is followed by rivals and reformist party We Continue the Change, whose cabinet including Democratic Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Socialist Party was ousted in June, with 20.2 per cent. In the capital Sofia, however, We Continue the Change was leading with 26.8 per cent to GERB’s 25.77.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS, a party focused on the Turkish diaspora and associated with numerous controversies, is running third with 13.6 per cent.

Pro-Moscow far-right party Revival (Vazrazhdane) is making its bet showing yet with 10.2 per cent.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party, also aligned to Moscow, took 9.3 per cent of the vote, a rather disappointing result for the party.

Democratic Bulgaria, a pro-EU force which is the closest ally of We Continue the Chance, is running fifth with 7.5 per cent.

Bulgarian Rise, a pro-Moscow party founded by former interim prime minister and presidential adviser Stefan Yanev, will debut in parliament after passing the four per cent threshold.

With the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Bulgarian Rise and Revival in parliament, three parties with a clear alignment with Moscow will be represented in the legislature.

There’s Such a People, led by popular television host Slavi Trifonov, is currently running below the threshold to enter parliament. The party experienced a drop in support after winning elections in July 2021, then being part of Petkov’s coalition after the elections in November, and then leaving it after a series of chaotic decisions and claims.

“We now have an even more fragmented parliament,” Hristo Ivanov from Democratic Bulgaria told local media.

Final standings will be known by the middle of the week. The current tally does not include votes from abroad.

According to Alpha Research agency, voter turnout was 37.8 per cent, a possible record low.

To form a coalition, Borissov has to turn far right

There are 240 seats in Bulgaria’s parliament, which means that any governing oalition would need 121 MPs.

The current standing indicates that GERB would get 67 seats. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, often regarded as a natural partner to GERB, might expect 36.

For a possible cabinet, the two parties, which usually present a liberal image, could look to the far-right Revival as a potential partner, despite the anti-EU profile of Kostadin Kostadinov’s nationalist party. If the two get Revival’s projected 36 MPs, their alliance would have 130 seats.

For Borissov, siding with the far right wouldn’t be a precedent – his last cabinet (from 2017-21) featured the now-defunct United Patriots alliance.

So far, Borissov has abstained from commenting on his options.

If the mandate passes to We Continue the Change, its leader Petkov will have to rely on Democratic Bulgaria, make another uneasy partnership with Bulgarian Socialist Party, and find a fourth ally.

Assen Vassilev, co-leader of We Continue the Change, said on Sunday evening that “we deeply disagree with the way Bulgaria was governed during the GERB times but voters made their choice”.

Petkov again ruled out any coalition talk with GERB: “It’s a matter of basic values [not to get involved with GERB]. We won’t betray that value system,” he said.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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