An article by: Dušan Proroković

The elections have been held, but the creation of a parliamentary majority remains very much in doubt. The winners are under enormous pressure both within Bulgaria and from the European Union and NATO.

Boyko Borisov

As were the predictions before the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, so are the result of the elections. With one surprise. The leading GERB-SDS coalition led by Boyko Borisov won about 24% of the votes and 68 mandates. Compared to the previous elections, they lost one place, but despite that they have a great reason to be satisfied. The distribution of mandates is such that without Boyko Borisov, a parliamentary majority cannot be formed in any variant. GERB-SDS (GERB and the Union of Democratic Forces) becomes the central party in the political system, and after all the accusations of corruption and abuse, Borisov was politically rehabilitated and “his term was extended”. Despite announcements three years ago that the fall from power was also the end of his political career, that did not happen.

Distribution of parliamentary mandates in the Bulgarian Parliament

In the race for second place, in which as many as three lists with similar ratings participated, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, an organization created in 1990 as a party of the Turkish national minority, won. However, according to the results of the recently held census, the maximum number of Turks in Bulgaria is 9%, and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms won 16.5% and as many as 45 mandates in these elections (9 more than in the previous elections). It is possible that an increasing number of Roma voted for this party, it is also possible that they have a more disciplined electorate that goes to the elections regularly and without hesitation, and it is possible that this represents the result of low overall turnout (more on this will be discussed later in the text).

The pro-Western coalition PP-DB (coalition between We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria) headed by Kiril Petkov, which Brussels would most like to see in power, finished in third place with around 14%, roughly in the same position as Macron in France. Of course, the “mainstream” parties in Bulgaria, those that also pledge allegiance to the EU and NATO in their election campaigns, can also be categorized as pro-Western. But here it comes to the details. When Boyko Borisov talks about the EU and NATO in Brussels and Washington, they welcome it, because it is in their interest, but in terms of values, culturally, civilizationally, the world made from Western international organizations, corporations and various other societies has never accepted him as their equal. Illustratively speaking, they can hold a meeting with Borisov, but they never invite him to a private dinner. They would accept the technocrats from PP-DB as their own, since they share the same values. The shipwreck they suffered, losing as many as 24 mandates between two election cycles (they fell from 64 to 40 seats in parliament) does not make them a candidate for an important role in the post-election period, despite the sympathy of the political West towards them. Also, at the end of the campaign, a clear message came from this coalition that they will in no way form a future government with Borisov and Peevski (the leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms). With whom would they go then?

Kostadin Kostadinov’s Revival party scarcely lost in this race and took fourth place, keeping its old rating but also gaining one more mandate in the assembly (they now have 38 deputies). Far behind, in fifth place, are the “remnants of the remnants” of the once powerful and ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, which continues the trend of reducing the number of deputies in the parliament, now with 7% of the vote they won 19 mandates (4 less than last time). Behind them is the There Is Such A People movement led by Slavi Trifonov with about 6% and 17 mandates and they fared better than pollsters predicted.

The phenomenon of the “Velichie” list

Finally, there is the surprise of the election, the “Velichie” (Greatness) list, which won the trust of around 100,000 voters and won 13 mandates with 4.5% (in the Bulgarian electoral system, which is a purely proportional electoral census is 3%). One of the leaders of this movement, Ivelin Mikhailov, was close to Kostadinov, so it is probably a part of the votes that broke away from the Revival party and prevented him from taking second place in the elections. In his first address after the election, Mikhailov pointed out: “On the issue of Ukraine, we differ from Revival. Kostadinov is in favor of helping Russia, and we are for neutrality. We are in favor of staying in NATO and the EU, categorically and clearly. We are not Euro-Atlanticists, we are Bulgarians and this is the best solution for us at the moment.” Unlike Kostadinov, who managed to ideologically round his party and shift the focus of action to issues of identity, geopolitics and the search for an alternative development paradigm, “Velichie” still looks like an ad hoc group of gathered people, who are trying to explain what makes them original. It is also possible that with the quoted statement they would like to recommend themselves for entering in the government, since both NATO and the EU would like to keep Kostadinov out of any possible combination when creating a parliamentary majority. By the way, when everything is added up, as many as 15% of the votes, which were won by small parties (they won in the range from 2.89% to 0.04%), remained below the census. Since the Bulgarian parliament has 240 seats, now again, like the previous five times in the last three years, the problem arises of gathering a majority of 121.

Four possible developments

The first scenario is that there would simply be no majority and that elections will be held again in a short period of time. Looking at the mutual relations of Bulgarian politicians, the huge number of lists and factions that entered the parliament, as well as the current situation in Bulgaria, it may seem like the most logical option. However!!! Turnout in these elections was record low, amounting to only 33 percent (out of 6.6 million registered voters, only 2.2 million voters voted). Of course, it should be borne in mind that the list of voters is “overinflated”.

This is the case with all Balkan countries. Migrations are noticeable, millions of people from the Balkans live and work in Western Europe, but as citizens they are still registered in the voter lists in their home countries. This is also the case with Bulgaria, where currently less than 6 million people live and work. That is why, in reality, the turnout is somewhat higher, but it is still an astonishing fact that only 2.2 million people voted. At the same time, it is a great warning to politicians. Bulgarians are tired of elections (these were the sixth in three years), they are tired of party calculations. If another extraordinary parliamentary election were to be called in a short period of time, the turnout could be even lower, and then the legitimacy of the process and the sustainability of the political system are called into question. Political parties do not exist just for their own sake! For this reason, we should expect political parties to make maximum efforts in order to find a compromise and form a parliamentary majority, but also that citizens tolerate the creation of some “unprincipled coalitions”. Under these conditions, it is better to have any government than no government at all.

Building a government coalition: will you be the third?

Therefore, another scenario is for Borisov and Peevski to agree on cooperation between GERB-SDS and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (they have 113 mandates in total) and then look for a third partner. The third partner could be either Slavi Trifonov or perhaps “Velichie”. There is also an option for factions of some lists to join Borisov and Peevski and thus form a government.

In this case, the problem may be the reaction of NATO and the EU since Delyan Peevski has been sanctioned by the Magnitsky Act by the USA and UK for corruption, bribery and embezzlement since 2021. Also, Turkish politicians from Bulgaria are inextricably linked to Turkey, and Erdogan is more part of the problem for the US and the EU at the moment than part of the solution. It is highly debatable for NATO and the EU, and how would Borisov behave in such circumstances in the future!? Borisov sovereignly ruled Bulgaria for 12 years as a stabilocrat supported by Washington and Brussels, but after the fall from power (in 2021), the USA and the EU did not protect him, nor did they count on him seriously. Their favorites were other Bulgarian politicians, Borisov was left on his own. It is true that during both this and the previous election campaigns, Borisov recommended himself as a cooperative candidate, he did not question the policies of the USA and the EU too much, but it remains open how much of this was mimicry, how much was forced rhetoric, how much was tactics, and how much was sincere convictions!?

For this reason, an option that would include PP-DB as a partner in government is being considered as a third option. It goes without saying that if this would be demanded by Washington and Brussels, they would be a part of the government. The obstacle for this option is not only the refusal of the PP-DB to make a pact with Borisov and Peevski, but also the fact that they would have to be “minority shareholders” in this new distribution of forces. They wouldn’t get a prime minister, they wouldn’t even get more than two key ministries, therefore they wouldn’t even be able to impose their own policy as dominant.

Consequently, a fourth possible scenario must be considered. And that is to establish an “expert government” that would be supported by a wider block of parties, and into which some new personalities, intellectuals or experts would enter at the suggestion of the parties. In truth, all previous attempts to create and operate “expert governments” in the Balkan states have ended ingloriously. There is no reason to believe that this kind of project would succeed in Bulgaria. But, in a pressure situation, if there are no other solutions, this solution should not be ruled out either. Because, although at first glance it seems that the most logical way out would be to organize another election, there is a huge risk that the voters in Bulgaria would perceive this as irresponsible behavior and there is a high probability that they would therefore punish the politicians by mass absenteeism.

Professor, PhD

Dušan Proroković