Bulgaria Elections

Bulgaria election ends in stalemate, but gains for pro-Russian party

| 2023-04-03 3 min read

Bulgaria election ends in stalemate, but gains for pro-Russian party

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Bulgaria’s conservatives and liberals were practically neck and neck with votes still being counted after the country’s fifth election in two years on Sunday, 2 April.

Early projections put former premier Boyko Borisov’s conservative GERB party at 24-26%, slightly ahead of the liberal We Continue The Change (PP) and Democratic Bulgaria (DB) coalition with 23-24%. Led by one-time prime minister Kiril Petkov, PP and DB merged in the runup to Sunday’s election.

Turnout was around 40%, only slightly higher than in October 2021. Official results are expected later in the week.

Sunday’s results are unlikely to end the crisis in the country of 6.5mn people. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has exacerbated the crisis in Bulgaria, which has put the country in political paralysis since 2020.

Bulgarian election seat projections, 2 April 2023/ Source: Europe Elects

Forming stable coalitions increasingly difficult

The political turmoil in Bulgaria has been unprecedented since the fall of communism, with the crisis deepening following Russia’s invasion of its neighbour, as the country is a member of the European Union and NATO, but historically and culturally close to Russia.

The election is unlikely to end the unstable coalition governments and fragmented parliament that Bulgaria has seen since 2020. While the election results could potentially result in a stable government, the country remains deeply divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The pro-Russian ultra-nationalist Vazrazhdane (Revival) party, which supports Russia’s war in Ukraine, gained 13-14% of the vote, up from 10% in the last ballot, according to projections.

The Socialist BSP, the successor of Bulgaria’s Communist Party, which looks to have scored a historic low of 9-10%, also opposes sending arms to Ukraine. The party of ethnic Turks, DPS, garnered 12.9%, in part thanks to its high support abroad.

Ukraine has exposed another political schism in Bulgaria

Both Borisov and Petkov support Ukraine in its war with Russia. Analysts said it is far from certain the two could find a way for their parties of working together, given Petrov’s frequent accusations of corruption against Borisov.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, who has appointed interim cabinets between the string of five inconclusive elections, opposes sending arms to Ukraine and has denounced Petkov and his allies as “warmongers”.

Balkans expert Dimitar Bechev tweeted: “pro-Russia Revival is (Bulgaria’s) third largest party after yesterday’s Bulgarian elections. There are two options: a grand coalition between GERB and PP-DB, and a “status quo” coalition between GERB, DPS and BSP.”

“There is no doubt that the war in Ukraine is a factor, as well as high inflation, in pushing Petkov and Borisov to find some form of agreement. But would it be enough?” pollster Andrey Raychev asked.

Grand coalition possible, but unlikely

Borisov, Bulgaria’s dominant political figure over the last decade, said he was hopeful a stable government could be formed and “a solution to the crisis” of repeating elections found.

According to analysts, the closer the results of the first two parties, the harder it will be to form a cabinet. Unless Borisov withdraws, there is no end in sight to this “worrying spiral of elections”, predicted Lukas Macek, associate researcher at the Jacques Delors Institute for Central and Eastern Europe.

Petkov, the Harvard-educated liberal who was briefly premier in 2022, wrote on Sunday: “I voted with a machine for a very simple reason: I don’t want my two daughters to go to study abroad, I want my third daughter to be able to go back to work in Bulgaria. I want to see my friends to Varna not to travel for five hours, but to travel for three hours.

“When travelling around Europe I want to not feel like a second-class person, not to have our documents checked at every stop. I voted for a normal European life. I voted to have a normal European government, normal European roads, normal European healthcare, normal European education,” he added.