Bulgaria votes for change

Bulgaria’s third parliamentary election for the year, held on Sunday (see my preview here), has produced a result similar to the first two, but with an important difference – enough to raise hopes that this time it will lead to a majority government.

With 99.5% of the vote counted (see official results here), the new broadly liberal anti-corruption party, We Continue the Change (PP), leads with 25.7% of the vote, ahead of the traditional centre-right party, GERB, on 22.8% (down 0.4%). Another anti-establishment party, There is Such a People (ITN), which topped the poll last time, dropped a massive 14.3 points to 9.5%, running fifth behind the other two traditional parties: the liberal DPS on 12.9% (up 2.3%) and the centre-left Socialists on 10.3% (down 4.5%).

Two other parties made it across the 4% threshold: Democratic Bulgaria, also in the anti-establishment camp, with 6.3% (down 3.0%), and the far-right Revival with 4.9% (up 1.9%). Stand Up! dropped out, falling from 5.0% to 2.3%. Revival seems to have consolidated the far-right vote; two other such parties, IMRO and Patriotic Front, fell back to 1.1% and 0.3% respectively.

So looking at just the parties that will be represented in parliament, the three establishment parties have 46.0% of the vote between them. Their three anti-establishment rivals have 41.5%, and the far right holds the balance of power on 4.9%. Back in July, the establishment three had 49.4% against 38.0% for the anti-establishment side. (In April it was 51.0% to 31.4%.)

In other words, there’s been a continued swing against the establishment parties – on this occasion mostly hurting the Socialists. But the important thing is that the leading opposition role has now fallen to PP, instead of the more intractable ITN, whose leader Slavi Trifonov failed to capitalise on his strong position last time. It’s thought that a PP-led coalition is a good prospect, drawing in the Socialists as well as ITN and Democratic Bulgaria.

I can’t find an official allocation of seats, but my own calculation agrees with whoever did it at Wikipedia: 67 seats to PP, 59 GERB, 33 DPS, 27 Socialists, 25 ITN, 16 Democratic Bulgaria and 13 Revival. That would give the proposed coalition a fairly comfortable 135 of the 240 seats. It certainly looks the most plausible option; a coalition between the three establishment parties is no longer even a theoretical possibility, since it would now be two seats short of a majority.

In the presidential election held at the same time, incumbent Rumen Radev (independent centre-left) is well in front with 49.5%. GERB-backed academic Anastas Gerdjikov is a distant second on 22.9%, and the DPS’s Mustafa Karadayi is the only other one to make double figures, with 11.5%.

Radev and Gerdjikov will contest a runoff next Sunday, and indeed would have done so even if Radev had got the extra 0.5%, since a first-round victory requires a turnout above 50%. It was nowhere near that; in fact it’s struggling to reach 40%, after reaching 49.1% in April but only 40.4% in July. (Bulgarians are understandably a bit sick of elections.)

With a new five-year mandate, Radev will give PP leader Kiril Petkov the opportunity to form a government and bring some much-needed change to Bulgaria.

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