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Bulgaria’s game changing double elections: a closer look

Bulgaria’s game changing double elections: a closer look
©EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV  |   Co-leader of the party 'We continue the change' Kiril Petkov votes at a polling station during the general elections in Sofia, Bulgaria, 14 November 2021.

Bulgaria goes deeper into unpredictable territory following the November 14 joint elections. The general elections saw a new reformist party debuting on top against all odds, while in the Presidential run, Rumen Radev is set to be re-elected after mustering nearly 50 per cent of the vote in the first round.

A surprising result which polls failed to predict

The 47th National Assembly in Bulgaria will welcome seven parties, with the highest number of seats going to a newcomer – “We Continue the Change”, a recently founded centrist and anti-corruption party, headed by Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev, former ministers of economy and finance in the May-September 2021 interim government, appointed by President Rumen Radev.

According to the Central Election Commission’s interim results as on Tuesday morning, We Continue the Change won with 25.7 per cent of the vote, while ex-Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB came in close second with 22.8 per cent. Movement for Rights and Freedoms, focused on the Turkish diaspora in the country, surprisingly came third with 12.9 per cent - the party has mobilised its electorate despite being plagued by corruption allegations and having controversial member Delyan Peevski sanctioned under the Magnitsky act and mentioned in the Pandora Papers for offshore assets.

Bulgarian Socialist Party took 10.3 per cent, their worst results in 2021’s elections. July winners There is Such a Nation proved to be one hit wonders: they fell to fifth place with 9.5 per cent.

Democratic Bulgaria alliance, which gained momentum during the 2020 protests, grew in status in the April and July elections, and previously won the vote in Sofia leaving GERB second, experienced a disappointing turnout: 6.3 per cent. This, combined with the failure of their presidential candidate, judge Lozan Panov, to make an impact in the elections, shows a quick and rather unexpected decline in relevancy.

The last to make the cut is the far-right pro-Moscow party Vazrajdane (Revival), which has organised numerous protests against the COVID-19 safety measures and the vaccination campaign. It’s expected that their radicalism will most probably put them in political isolation although their leader Kostadin Kostadinov boldly stated that the party can be a first power in near future. 

No polling agency had predicted “We Continue the Change” coming on top or Revival’s overcoming the four per cent barrier, and these were the biggest surprises of the elections. The turnout predictions missed their target – while some predicted a nearly 50 per cent activity, in comparison to 49.10 in April and 41 per cent in July, in reality only 39.1 per cent of those eligible to vote went to the ballots. 38.9 per cent voted in the Presidential election.

We Continue the Change essentially gathered voters from across the political spectrum: for some it appeared as a stronger contender against GERB in comparison to Democratic Bulgaria and benefitted from the huge loss of votes in the There is Such a Nation camp. Petkov and Vassilev also formed the party while the society’s approval of the interim government of Radev was high and the two were noted for their willingness for reforms and exposing GERB’s wrongdoings since becoming a dominant power in local politics in 2009.

“We Continue the Change”: the new heroes of the day

“The next government should be the A-team of Bulgaria”, said Kiril Petkov on November 16. While he sees himself as a potential Prime Minister and Assen Vassilev as a Minister of Finance, Petkov added that he’s open to discussions with their potential partners regarding the positions. Petkov prioritised lustration of public funds management and limiting the powers of Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, seen as a protector of GERB’s legacy and Boyko Borissov’s alleged corruption practices.

He also announced that the party has started coalition talks with Democratic Bulgaria, There is Such a Nation and Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) – all united in their opposition to GERB and Boyko Borissov but having little in common, especially as Democratic Bulgaria holds pro-Western and pro-EU views, BSP appears unreformed from its Communist past, retains conservative views and issued vaccine hesitancy statements, and often holds pro-Kremlin views, while There is Such a Nation lost the momentum of their win in July, hoping for a majority win in the future and adamant no coalition can be formed unless all ministers are from their list.

This means We Continue the Change won’t be entering any talks with GERB, Movement for Rights and Freedoms and far-right debutants Revival.

In local press, Petkov and Vassilev’s win is seen as a possible new page in Bulgaria’s politics but it remains to be seen how close to their ideals will they stay or whether they’ll turn to compromises as previous opposition parties did.

“These elections were a final attempt of the Bulgarian society to overcome the tendencies of the 1990’s, meaning the model of politics that was introduced by Boyko Borissov - violence, thievery, arrogant attitude and foolishness. It’s an attempt to finally enter the XXIst century and for the society to identify with concerned and welcoming people with a seemingly clean reputation”, said analyst Evgeniy Dainov on Bulgarian National Radio on November 15.

President Radev’s soars high, party leaders quit their jobs, and There is Such a Nation slips into obscurity

Rumen Radev, running with the support of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, is potentially facing Sofia University rector Anastas Gerdjikov, backed by GERB, in a second round of the Presidential elections later in November. At the time of writing, there are slim chances Radev might win more than 50 per cent of the vote against Gerdjikov’s 22-23 per cent.

The elections are essentially all good news for Radev who is expected to enter a second term as a President as a party that supports him comes to power, and all bad news for Borissov’s GERB, coming in second for a second election in a row. “The next government should be a reformist one”, Radev, an outspoken opponent of GERB, said on Sunday evening.

The leaders of Democratic Bulgaria filed their resignations on Monday becoming the first to step down following the disappointing results. It’s yet unclear how this will affect the coalition talks with “We Continue the Change”.

Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova was defiant in her immediate comments after the election despite internal conflicts in the party and the youth organisation of BSP demanding her resignation. On Tuesday, she also announced her resignation. Frustration from leftist voters against Ninova was also a factor after the unsatisfying results in April and July.

Founded by popular singer, entertainer and talk show host Slavi Trifonov in 2020, “There is Such a Nation” debuted as a second power in April, won the popular vote in July but ever since stepping into the parliament, the party has been associated with chaotic decisions, lack of transparency and members with questionable reputation. Trifonov, whose health is often a point of discussion, made very few public appearances and never entered the parliament. “I have not seen such a quick downfall of the public trust in our recent political history”, tweeted bird.bg journalist Dimitar Stoyanov.

However, There is Such a Nation remains an important and unpredictable part of the coalition puzzle. Shortly before the elections Slavi Trifonov stated that he doesn’t regret any decision and that the party will remain uninvolved in coalition talks - in the next few days, we’ll see whether that will change.


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  • Bulgaria goes deeper into unpredictable territory following the November 14 joint elections. The general elections saw a new reformist party debuting on top against all odds, while in the Presidential run, Rumen Radev is set to be re-elected after mustering nearly 50 per cent of the vote in the first round.
  • No polling agency had predicted “We Continue the Change” coming on top or Revival’s overcoming the four per cent barrier, and these were the biggest surprises of the elections. The turnout predictions missed their target – while some predicted a nearly 50 per cent activity, in comparison to 49.10 in April and 41 per cent in July, in reality only 39.1 per cent of those eligible to vote went to the ballots.
  • PP has started coalition talks with Democratic Bulgaria, There is Such a Nation and Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) – all united in their opposition to GERB and Boyko Borissov but having little in common, especially as Democratic Bulgaria holds pro-Western and pro-EU views, BSP appears unreformed from its Communist past, retains conservative views and issued vaccine hesitancy statements, and often holds pro-Kremlin views, while There is Such a Nation lost the momentum of their win in July, hoping for a majority win in the future and adamant no coalition can be formed unless all ministers are from their list. This means We Continue the Change won’t be entering any talks with GERB, Movement for Rights and Freedoms and far-right debutants Revival.
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