It was confirmed at the weekend that Bulgaria will go to the polls for an early parliamentary election on 5 October, less than 18 months after the last election. A banking crisis has brought matters to a head, and talks between the political parties last week agreed on the date, which president Rosen Plevneliev confirmed on Sunday. Parliament will be dissolved on 6 August and a caretaker government appointed.
It was never likely that the current parliament would run its full term, since the election in May last year produced an exact deadlock. The centre-left Coalition for Bulgaria (led by the Socialist Party) and its most likely coalition partner, the liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms, won 120 of the 240 seats between them (84 and 36 respectively). The centre-right GERB took 97 and the far-right Attack the remaining 23.
A predominantly Socialist government took office under the prime ministership of Plamen Oresharski, nominally an independent but aligned to the centre-left. It was confirmed by a vote of 120-97, with the far right abstaining, and has since survived several votes of confidence – most recently three weeks ago by just five votes. Both the liberals and the far right made it clear that their patience was exhausted.
Bulgaria’s problem seems to be that voters don’t like either of its major parties much, and so change government at every opportunity. The Socialists were in power when the global financial crisis struck, and therefore took the blame: GERB won a clear victory at the 2009 election with almost 40% of the vote. But it failed in its turn to deal with the country’s economic problems, and mass protests led to the resignation of prime minister Boiko Borisov and an early election in 2013, at which it lost almost a quarter of its support.
In the European parliament election in May, GERB was almost unchanged from its 2013 result, with 30.4%. But the Socialists were down sharply to 18.9%, only just ahead of the MRF with 17.3%. The populist Bulgaria Without Censorship had 10.7% and the centre-right Reformist Bloc 6.5%. The good news was that Attack was reduced to irrelevance, winning only 3.0%.
At this stage the most likely outcome looks like a centre-right coalition government. According to Deutsche Welle, “Surveys suggest that Borisov’s GERB party will emerge as the largest party in the new parliament.” But of course GERB is already the largest party; what’s different is that this time it should have some likely coalition partners.
A lot can happen in three months, however, so it remains to be seen if this will be another setback for the European left.