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In Bulgaria, a Pyrrhic victory for Boyko Borisov and GERB

BorisovAlegeri
©EPA-EFE/GOVERNMENT PRESS OFFICE HANDOUT  |   A handout photo made available by the Bulgarian Government Press Office shows Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov casts his ballot at a polling station during the parliamentary elections in Sofia, Bulgaria, 04 April 2021.

On first look it’s another win for GERB, on a second: there’s a major shift in Bulgaria’s voting tendencies. PM Boyko Borisov’s long-ruling and controversial party is winning the vote but at the same time is lacking a majority and there’s no obvious partner to form a coalition. Increasingly isolated, he will have a hard time choosing the right survival route.

Is this the beginning of the end for Borisov, who rose from a bodyguard of former Communist leader Todor Zhivkov to a mayor of Sofia in 2004 and then Prime Minister in 2009?

Ice seems to be breaking below Borisov

According to partial results by the Central Election Commission, as of 15:00 pm and after processing 80,88% of the votes, GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria), running with the Union of Democratic Forces, is first with 25,9%.

Newcomers “There’s a Nation” (sometimes translated in English as “There’s Such People”), headed by longtime popular entertainer, singer and TV personality Slavi Trifonov, is coming as a second power with 18 % and also determinately winning votes in rural areas and among immigrant communities for whom he’s instantly recognizable. Trifonov’s campaign was a very specific one as he didn’t make any media appearances beyond his own ⅞ tv channel and his social media accounts.

According to polling agency Alpha Research, “There’s a Nation” is the main beneficiary of people’s unrest last year and is pulling voters from parties all around the political spectrum, including from GERB and BSP.

Slavi Trifonov, who has dabbled in denialist rhetoric regarding the pandemic and the need for vaccination, congratulated his voters but also explained his silence through the day with experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and therefore self-isolating.  “You all wanted the power back and the change is now inevitable.” There’s been no update on his health since Sunday night.

Bulgarian Socialist Party, the main opposition to GERB in the National Assembly, took a dive with only 15 percent. Party leader Kornelia Ninova, in charge of the party since 2016, has not commented on the rumors of resignation.

Alliance Democratic Bulgaria, powered by the protest wave of 2020, exceeded polls’ expectations and so far is in fourth place with 10 percent. The alliance is also holding the possibility to dethrone GERB in the capital as it now wins in several of Sofia’s regions. “There’s a sclerosis in Bulgarian politics that will take several elections to fully clear out”, said Hristo Ivanov, co-leader of “Democratic Bulgaria” in his TV comments. “There’s a new energy unlocked, including in voters beyond Bulgaria, there’s a platform for wider activity. Borisov will soon be replaced from his role as a gigantic dinosaur, blocking the way.”

Apart from the good result in Sofia (this would be the first time in 15 years GERB would not win the capital) Democratic Bulgaria is also dominating in several far-off locations in the US, Australia, New Zealand.

Movement for Rights and Freedoms, focusing their activity mainly around the Turkish diaspora, has 9,6 percent.

Stand Up.BG (alternatively translated in English as Rise Up.BG), who gained momentum during last years’ protest wave, is set to be the last addition to the parliament with 4,9 percent. “We saw that Borisov is simply unable to form a government and that the parties which originated from last year's protest movement are the actual first power”, said Maya Manolova of “Stand Up.BG”, who later into the night protested against possible voting fraud. Manolova claimed she has evidence that numerous votes were sidelined as incorrect to push GERB ahead and tried to intervene in the counting process in “Arena Armeec” hall in Sofia.

Far-righters IMRO, a coalition partner of GERB in the last four years, are so far at 3,5%, below the 4 percent barrier, along with other nationalist parties.

Voting tendencies

“We’re currently in boiling waters and there’s still room for any kind of surprises”, said Boryana Dimitrova of polling agency Alpha Research on the morning of April 5, during an interview for Bulgarian National Television. She also noted that many people have underestimated that Slavi Trifonov has always addressed an audience that doesn’t follow politics closely and can vote instinctively. Yanitsa Petkova ot Gallup International, also said that any kind of prognosis is hard to make. “If we take for granted all that parties have said right before the elections, there simply isn’t room for any kind of coalition”, she told Bulgarian National Radio.

The data is still incoming but so far the voters participation is at 47,5%, slightly below the expected, although some sociologists notice more participation from younger voters.

 An interesting tendency is that immigrants, usually counted for supporting the pro-EU and pro-West parties, have widely supported the rhetoric and the non-specific manifesto by Slavi Trifonov and “There’s a Nation”, as well as far-right parties that seem to have more support abroad than in Bulgaria. In interim results, ultra-nationalist “Vazrajdane” has more votes abroad than on local soil. “Bulgarian National Union”, headed by a charged tycoon in exile, former lottery and football club owner Vassil Bojkov, is also having more support abroad, which holds the potential to offer surprises in the final stages of the 4% hurdle.

The election process was plagued by numerous complaints from the voters on fraud activity, non-functioning voting machines, while abroad Bulgarian faced hours of queueing and last-minute changes of voting sections addresses. Hundreds of citizens in London were left without a possibility to participate after sections announced they have reached their quota of collecting votes. In France, a section closed because local authorities found that anti-COVID-19 measures were not followed.

Possible escape routes for Borisov

The media coverage of the elections was memorable with the lack of major party leaders ready to answer journalists’ questions - both GERB and BSP members shied away from the cameras. The reluctance of ruling party leaders to participate actively in the elections was noticeable - in the last months Borisov stayed as far away from Sofia as possible, driving himself to remote villages and towns, inspecting infrastructure and building sites and connecting with elderly voters. He never gave a major interview in regards to the current politics of his cabinet, criticized for mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic, oligarch ties, corruption, autocrat attitude and limited media freedom.

The PM did not comment on the results before midnight, when an 11-minute video appeared on his Facebook. In the video Borisov also mentioned that a temporary expert cabinet, ruling until December, is an option he would consider. “You want war, I offer you peace.” In the video Borisov branded himself as the one worth keeping because of his experience. “Is there anyone more experienced than me? Someone more internationally renowned?”, said Borisov in the video. “I know much better than my colleagues how Europe and how the world works, how the institutions work.”

There’s still no indication how this idea will resonate with President Rumen Radev, a vocal critic of Boyko Borisov and supported by Bulgarian Socialist Party, who has to give the mandate to the winning party or approve the expert cabinet. Radev was one of the first political figures to vote on April 4 and after sending his ballot, expressed regret that the elections didn’t happen earlier. Through the 2020 anti-government protest wave, he repeatedly demanded the resignation of the coalition and was involved with numerous crossfire stand-offs with Borisov.


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  • PM Boyko Borisov’s long-ruling and controversial party is winning the vote but at the same time is lacking a majority and there’s no obvious partner to form a coalition.
  • “There’s a Nation” is the main beneficiary of people’s unrest last year and is pulling voters from parties all around the political spectrum, including from GERB and BSP.
  • Alliance Democratic Bulgaria, powered by the protest wave of 2020, exceeded polls’ expectations and so far is in fourth place with 10 percent. The alliance is also holding the possibility to dethrone GERB in the capital as it now wins in several of Sofia’s regions.
  • An interesting tendency is that immigrants, usually counted for supporting the pro-EU and pro-West parties, have widely supported the rhetoric and the non-specific manifesto by Slavi Trifonov and “There’s a Nation”, as well as far-right parties that seem to have more support abroad than in Bulgaria.
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