Balkan landslide and Balkan cliffhanger

Last week, previewing Sunday’s election in Moldova, I repeated my observation that “The constant in Moldovan politics is that pro-Russian and pro-European forces are very evenly matched.” But that’s not how it turned out this time. The pro-Europeans, who had held only a narrow lead in the polls, scored a crushing victory.

The Action & Solidarity Party (PAS; centre to centre-right) won 52.8% of the vote and 63 of the 101 seats in parliament, up 26.0% and 37 seats from the united pro-European vote in 2019. The pro-Russian Bloc of Communists & Socialists won 27.2% (down 7.7%) and 32 seats (down three). The only other party to clear the 5% threshold was the Shor Party (right-wing pro-Russian, but mostly a personal vehicle for fugitive businessman Ilan Shor), with 5.7% (down 2.6%) and six seats (down one).

Below the threshold were Our Party, now called the Renato Usatii Bloc, on 4.1%, the centre-right pro-European Dignity & Truth Platform on 2.3% and the once-mighty Democratic Party on just 1.8%. Turnout was 48.3%, down just slightly on 2019’s 49.1%. (Official results are here.)

When I wrote last week’s preview I didn’t realise that the previous government had abolished the single-member seats and returned to the old system of full proportional representation. The 50 single-member districts were introduced in the previous parliament to try to advantage the then-incumbents; they didn’t have much effect in 2019, but at this election they would have greatly exaggerated the PAS majority.

As it is, it’s still pretty impressive. With PAS also controlling the presidency, Moldova seems set for a term of unified reformist government, setting the country up for closer relations with the European Union and probably greater tension with Russia, which controls the breakaway strip of Transnistria along the Ukrainian border.

In nearby Bulgaria, on the other hand, which also voted on Sunday, the outcome could hardly be less clear-cut. With results almost complete (98.9% of polling places reporting), the opposition There Are Such People (ITN) has a wafer-thin lead, with 23.9% (up 6.5% on April’s result) against 23.7% for the centre-right establishment party, GERB (down 2.1%) – a gap of just under 6,000 votes.

That lead looks like increasing slightly, since the remaining votes to come in are mostly from outside the country, where ITN has been running strongly ahead. But the bulk of the vote is still with the traditional parties: in addition to GERB, the centre-left Socialists have 13.5% (down 1.3%) and the liberal DPS 10.7% (up 0.3%).

On the anti-establishment side, potential allies for ITN are Democratic Bulgaria on 12.6% (up 3.3%) and Stand Up! Mafia Out! on 5.0% (up 0.4%). The far-right Bulgarian Patriots (3.2%) and Revival (3.0%) both fell below the 4% threshold. (Official results here, although you’ll need some acquaintance with Cyrillic.)

There’s no sign of an official seat allocation, but Wikipedia reports ITN 64 (up 13), GERB 63 (down 12), Socialists 36 (down seven), Democratic Bulgaria 34 (up seven), DPS 29 (down one) and Stand Up! Mafia Out! 14 (unchanged). Minor variations from those numbers won’t change the basic arithmetic.

ITN’s victory, assuming it holds up, will give it the first shot at forming a new government, but its route to a majority remains just as difficult as before. A minority government is possible, but it cannot survive if the three traditional parties combine against it; at least one of them will have to agree to tolerate it. And ITN’s leader, TV personality Slavi Trifonov, has been far from clear about his intentions.

But with the anti-establishment parties clearly on the rise, neither GERB nor its traditional rivals is likely to be at all keen on another election. It looks as if the opposition will get its chance.

3 thoughts on “Balkan landslide and Balkan cliffhanger

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