Centre-right back in Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s early election on Sunday (preview here) seems to have succeeded in making its parliament a bit more manageable. There were eight parties represented in the old parliament, but that has now come down to five, and one of them only just made it across the 4% threshold.

The centre-right GERB, which has governed for most of the last eight years, exceeded expectations slightly, winning 32.7% of the vote and 95 of the 240 seats. (Official results are here; I’m relying on Wikipedia’s conversion of votes to seats, although the estimates at the Sofia Globe are almost identical.) That’s a gain of 11 seats, due to the smaller number of parties reaching the threshold; its vote is actually unchanged from 2014.

The opposition Socialists recovered from their poor showing last time, winning 27.2% and 80 seats (up 41). The right-wing United Patriots had 9.1% and 27 seats (down three from their combined total), fractionally ahead of the liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), 9.0% and 26 seats (down 12). A new centrist populist group, Volya (“Will”), just made the cut with 4.1% and 12 seats.

GERB’s former coalition partners, the Reformist Bloc and Alternative for Bulgarian Revival, both disappear from the parliament, managing only 3.1% and 1.5% respectively. A controversial new pro-Turkish party, DOST, also fell below expectations with 2.9%. “None of the above”, newly offered as an option, attracted 2.5%, although like last time, almost half of eligible voters didn’t bother to show up.

Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova has conceded defeat, and GERB’s Boyko Borisov seems certain to return as prime minister with the support (tacit or otherwise) of Volya and the United Patriots. The latter range from centre-right Eurosceptics through to far-right populists, so there could be some interesting times ahead. But Borisov is in a strong bargaining position, so there is at least a decent chance that this parliament, unlike the last three, will run its full term.

The also reinforces the message that the far right is not independently powerful: its strength comes from establishment parties pandering to it and failing to unite against it. Bulgaria’s voters have shown they still have confidence, of a sort, in their established politicians; they now need to repay that trust and not steer the country down the populist road.

Sunday’s other European election, in the German state of Saarland, sent the same message. The far-right Alternative for Germany entered the state parliament, but with a modest 6.2% and just three seats. Government will continue in the hands of a grand coalition (as at federal level) between the Christian Democrats (40.7% and 24 seats, up five) and Social Democrats (29.6% and 17 seats, down one).

The only other party to win seats was the Left, which also lost support, with 12.9% and seven seats (down one). The Greens and the Pirates both dropped below the 5% threshold, while the Liberals, who dropped out last time, recovered ground but not enough to return to parliament.

The Saar is very small, but it’s still a good omen for German chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces the polls in September. Much could change before then, but at the moment it seems as if Europe has had a good look at extremism and decided that it doesn’t much like what it sees.

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