Bulgaria enters uncharted waters

Bulgaria’s election results are now final – the electoral commission reports 99.56% of polling places accounted for – but the shape of its next government certainly isn’t.

Since yesterday afternoon’s update, late counting favored the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a liberal party based in the ethnic Turkish community, at the expense of the two major parties. The centre-right GERB retained its overall lead with 30.7% (down 9% from 2009) , followed by the Socialist Party on 27.1% (up 9.4%) and MRF 10.5% (down 3.5%). The only other party to pass the 4% threshold to enter parliament is the far-right nationalist Attack, with 7.4% (down 2%).

The MRF also picked up two more of the first-past-the-post constituency seats (at the expense of GERB), bringing it to five – the same number it won in 2009.

Repeating the calculation that I made yesterday now gives the following seat totals:

GERB 100
Socialists 86
Movement for Rights and Freedoms 34
Attack 20


So GERB and MRF still have a clear majority between them; the problem is that according to news reports all of the other parties, including MRF, have ruled out joining or supporting a GERB government.

But the alternative, a BSP-MRF coalition, would be just short of a majority, having exactly half the seats in the National Assembly. Its best bet might be to try to pick off a defector or two from GERB, but that would still leave it in a precarious position.

Socialist leader Sergei Stanischev is quoted as saying he “was ready to meet with all parties” except GERB. But even if the Socialists were able to do some sort of deal with Attack, that would not produce a majority either. And it’s utterly unthinkable that Attack and the MRF could ever co-operate, since anti-Turkish racism is the centrepiece of Attack’s platform.

So unless MRF is willing to swallow its distaste and come to an agreement with GERB, Bulgaria could well be headed for fresh elections in the not-too-distant future. But with turnout already down to a record low

Don’t bother looking for any of this in the Australian media, but the international outlets have a bit of coverage. Unfortunately it’s less useful than it should be because of their unwillingness (or inability) to translate votes into seats.

Here’s the New York Times, for example; here’s the BBC, here’s Al-Jazeera, or Deutsche Welle, or the London Telegraph. Only the last of those even mentions the seat totals, and it gives GERB a lead of twelve seats over the Socialists, whereas on my reckoning it’s 14. (Granted they might be right and I might be wrong, but since they give no indication of where the number comes from I think I’ll stick to mine.)

The BBC report (just to pick on my usual target) is dated 1.26pm yesterday GMT: that’s 11.26pm in eastern Australia, seven hours after I posted the preliminary results and about the same time as the Bulgarian electoral commission was making its last update. Yet the key facts about the new parliament – which combinations of parties will have a majority and which won’t – appear nowhere in the report.

Instead all we get is the remark that “In order to form a new government, Gerb will need the support of parties that have already declared their opposition to another Borisov-led administration,” and that “it will be hard for either main party to form a credible coalition.” Quite true, but tantalisingly incomplete.

Is it that the BBC doesn’t know how the Bulgarian electoral system works? It’s explained on Wikipedia, or if you don’t trust that you can confirm it by reverse-engineering from the 2009 results. Or if you can read Bulgarian I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find an official description. Or is there no-one at the BBC who can do a D’Hondt calculation? (That’s on Wikipedia too, although I think my explanation is neater.)

Or do they just assume the readers are only looking for local color and don’t care about what’s actually happening?



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