Election previews: Bulgaria and Moldova

Two near neighbors in the Balkans go to the polls on Sunday.

There’s not a lot to say about Bulgaria. This is a re-run of April’s parliamentary election, which failed to produce a majority government, although it’s not clear why anyone expects this one to do any better. You can read my preview of the first election here, and subsequent reports here and here.

Basically the three traditional parties, GERB (centre-right), the Socialists (centre-left) and the DPS (liberals), won 148 of the 240 seats between them. Against them were three new anti-corruption or anti-establishment parties: There Are Such People (ITN) with 51 seats, Democratic Bulgaria with 27 and Stand Up! Mafia Out! with 14. The far-right IMRO (now running as Bulgarian Patriots), with 3.6%, fell below the 4% threshold and dropped out of parliament.

So for a majority, either the anti-corruption parties would have to agree to work with one of the establishment parties, all of which they regard (not unreasonably) as hopelessly corrupt, or the three establishment parties would have to form a grand coalition. Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova offered to link up with ITN and the other anti-system parties last time, but was rebuffed, and president Rumen Radev felt he had no alternative but to call a fresh election.

Polls show the three anti-establishment parties all making gains at the expense of GERB, but it looks unlikely to be enough to give them a majority. If ITN becomes the largest party, however, it may be able to make a go of minority government. Either way, it’s very hard to see GERB’s leader, Boiko Borisov, resuming his previous ascendancy.

Complicating matters is the fact that Radev’s term expires at the end of the year; he won the job with the backing of the Socialists, and is seeking re-election, with voting expected in October or November.

Moldova, on the other hand, is set for more of a change. At the last parliamentary election, held in February 2019, three parties dominated the vote: the Socialists (notionally left but pro-Russian) with 31.2% and 34 of the 101 seats, ACUM, a pro-European alliance, with 26.8% and 27 seats, and the Democratic Party, the vehicle of oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, with 23.6% and 30 seats.

ACUM and the Socialists negotiated an unlikely alliance and centrist Maia Sandu of ACUM became prime minister. But it only lasted a few a few months before the Socialists walked out; the Sandu government fell on a vote of no confidence, and an independent, Ion Chicu, became prime minister with Socialist and Democrat support.

In the meantime Plahotniuc, under investigation for corruption, had fled to Turkey, and in his absence the Democratic Party split. Last November, ACUM’s Sandu won the presidential election, replacing Socialist Igor Dodon, and Chicu, seeing the writing on the wall, resigned the following month. Another independent, Aureliu Ciocoi, took over as acting prime minister, and after some more constitutional argy-bargy Sandu dissolved parliament in April for a fresh election.

So with the Democrats having dealt themselves into irrelevance, Sunday’s election will be mostly a two horse race between the Socialists (running in alliance with the smaller Communist Party) and the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), the more centrist component of ACUM, now running separately. Polls show them evenly matched, with a slight advantage to PAS.

Others in the running are Shor (right-wing pro-Russian), the only other party to win seats last time; the Dignity and Truth Platform (the centre-right component of ACUM); Our Party (also pro-Russian), which fell short of the 5% threshold in 2019; and both the remnant Democrats and their pro-European splitters, called Pro Moldova. MPs are elected by first-past-the-post in fifty single-member districts, and another 51 by proportional representation (Sainte-Laguë, or something very like it).

As I noted last year, “The constant in Moldovan politics is that pro-Russian and pro-European forces are very evenly matched,” so whatever the result on Sunday the prospects for future stability are uncertain. But the emergence of a clear two-party system might at least help.

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