A little over six months after the last electoral count (October 2022), Bulgaria is back to voting again, but with the far from certain prospect of a stable government and parliament.
A country without a majority
The repeated electoral cycles of 2022 (April, July and finally October) have led citizens, tired by the continuous media campaigns, to not elect a Parliament with a significant majority either for a single party or for a coalition of parties. Indeed, if the GERB party (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) formally won the elections with 25.3% of the seats, the result however did not allow him to govern independently. The attempt to place as prime minister Nikolay Gabrovskyby GERB, was in fact rejected by Parliament on December 14, after more than two months of agreements and disagreements between the parties.
Since the “winning” parties failed to form a government, the next mandate was entrusted to the second largest political force in the country (with 20% of the seats), the PPE (Popular Party), on 3 January 2023. Even in this case, however, the political parties and Parliament did not agree on the name of the Prime Minister.
Il third and last term was bestowed on BSP (Socialist Party), which, in the wake of the differences faced by the other two previous parties, resulted in a stalemate. At this point, President Rumen Radev elected Galab Donev as interim prime minister, in anticipation of early elections of April 2, 2023. Donev is considered a technician, rather than an outright politician, as he is not affiliated with any particular party, but has held various political offices, including Minister of Labor between 2017 and 2021.
Support for Ukraine
If on the one hand we observe how the historical parties are not particularly unbalanced or in opposition to European support in the war in Ukraine, on the other hand, already in October 2022 a dispute had emerged between President Rumen Radev and the party “We continue the change” of former premier Kiril Petkov and his closest allies, Democratic Bulgaria, on thesending weapons to Ukraine.
Radev and the Socialist Party, more historically close to Russia’s positions, feared that the shipment of arms would endanger Bulgaria’s position in the European Union and vis-à-vis the Nato. The issue continued to be discussed in Parliament in the following months, without a shared solution being found. The various political forces have returned to discussing the issue in view of the April 2023 elections, but with less heated tones than in October 2022, perhaps also as a result of the agreements made individually between Petokov and Zelensky on the shipment of ammunition.
Nowadays therefore, the tacit support for Ukraine by GERB and the parties allied to “Democratic Bulgaria”, in line with EU provisions, sees an active confrontation by the Socialist Party and a resurgence of pro-Russian parties. Furthermore, it seems that these parties have recently changed their narrative in anticipation of the April elections, coming to define themselves as “bulwarks against the invasion of EU values - and currency”.
The Schengen question
The rebirth of pro-Russian partiessuch as for example Revivalin this historical period it is not accidental, but it is the result of veto of 22 December 2022 by Austria and the Netherlands against Bulgaria and Romania. Although it is not present among the topics of greater political importance, the debate on truth offers interesting reflections on how “minor” parties can play an important role in future relations between Sofia and Brussels. The veto in question, which was not applied to Croatia, was justified by the need to safeguard the EU’s eastern borders against illegal migratory routes.
If on the one hand the current Foreign Minister, Nikolay Mikov, claims that Bulgaria will be able to meet the accession criteria required by the EU by October this year, the risk of not having a Parliament and a government stable following the April elections gives reason to fear the opposite.
In addition to this context, Bulgaria will have to deal with the delay in the disbursement of the funds Recovery Fund by the European Commission. In fact, if the future government fails to demonstrate that it is implementing the social and economic reforms envisaged, there is the risk that the funds promised by the EU will be delayed in arriving, further slowing down Sofia’s adoption of the euro.
Allegations of corruption between parties
Following the announcement of new sanctions by the United States against some Bulgarian politicians due to their proximity to members of the Russian government and endemic corruption (including Vladislav Goranov, Borissov’s former finance minister) the major parties have distanced themselves from the accused.
In particular, GERB, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and the Socialist Party have declared that they have closed relations with the accused exponents, while requesting certain proof of the involvement of politicians in cases of corruption or mismanagement of financial resources . In partial contrast to the positions of GERB and the Socialist Party, the leaders of “Democratic Bulgaria” and “Continue the Change” considered that the sanctions were indicative of the need for a reform of the judicial systemwhile not going into the merits of the allegations.
Taking into consideration the exit polls, a week after the vote, the electorate appears divided between GERB (former prime minister Boyko Borissov’s party) and the coalition “Democratic Bulgaria” and “Continue the Change”: these forces, it is assigned around 25% of the preferences. The conservative Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and the pro-Russian Revival party follow at a safe distance, with 13% of the votes each. On the other hand, the Socialist Party (8%) and “There is a nation” (3%) by former presenter Slavi Trifonov, both in decline for some time, are losing ground.
The challenge will be played between the centre-right party DEAR and the Coalition of Liberal Parties, both will need the support of other political forces to form a solid executive. This uncertain possibility will all depend on the actual votes and on the requests made in particular by the DPS and by Revival, once the electoral counting is complete.
Article by Letizia Storchi of the Europe editorial staff of Lo Spiegone
Cover photo EPA/VASSIL DONEV