Last Sunday’s Bulgarian election (see my preview here) looks like marking a sea-change in the country’s politics. Although GERB, the centre-right party of prime minister Boyko Borisov, again topped the poll (as expected), its chance of remaining in power is slim. Some sort of opposition coalition is likely to take its place, but its shape remains uncertain.
Official figures show six parties (one more than last time) clearing the 4% threshold for representation. GERB leads with 26.2% (down 7.3%), followed by the new populist party There Are Such People (ITN; translations vary – other versions include There Is Such a People and There Is Such a Nation) on 17.7%. The Socialists, previously the main opposition party, plummeted from 27.9% to 15.0%, while the other traditional party, the liberal/Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), picked up slightly to 10.5% (up 1.3%). Another two anti-corruption parties complete the roster: Democratic Bulgaria on 9.4% (up 6.4%) and Stand Up.BG (new) 4.7%.
The far right dropped out of parliament; its largest component, IMRO, managed only 3.6%, while Volya dropped 1.9% to 2.4%. The once-powerful Attack was down to 0.5%. (Last time the United Patriots, an alliance that included both IMRO and Attack, had 9.3%.) The Socialists’ poor performance is also something of a defeat for the far right, since they had recently gravitated towards its policy positions.
That should give GERB 75 seats of the 240 seats, ITN 51, the Socialists 43, DPS 30, Democratic Bulgaria 27 and Stand Up.BG 14.* So the slight prospect that the traditional rivals, GERB and the Socialists, might combine against the newcomers has been removed as an option: even if they tried, they would be three seats short of a majority. The only single party that could provide GERB with the numbers is ITN, and that seems a most improbable combination.
Conversely, the three anti-establishment parties – ITN, Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up.BG – have 92 seats between them. Even assuming that they can work together, they would still need the support (if only tacit) of either DPS or the Socialists for a majority.
So it’s not at all clear where Bulgaria goes from here. Borisov has called for a technocratic national unity government, which could potentially work as a stop-gap measure until the presidential election scheduled for late this year. Incumbent Rumen Radev, a strong opponent of Borisov, will be seeking re-election, and it he wins a fresh mandate he may be in a position to impose some order on the diverse groups in parliament.
It’s also quite likely that a fresh election will be required at some point, and Borisov may hope that at that point voters will turn to him as a source of stability. But for now at least, Bulgarians seem to have made it clear that they are looking for change.
* I’ve obtained those numbers from a Sainte-Laguë calculation on the vote totals; not being able to read Bulgarian I haven’t found a source that confirms that to be the electoral system, but Sainte-Laguë gives exactly the right result when applied to the 2017 figures, and it’s most unlikely that would happen by chance.