Bulgaria & Montenegro

There were two elections in the Balkans on Sunday: the latest in a sequence of general elections in Bulgaria (previewed here), and the second round of Montenegro’s presidential election (read about the first round here).

Bulgaria’s result did little to disturb the established pattern. The five parties that last week I said were “seemingly assured of seats” did indeed win them. The establishment centre-right party, GERB, again topped the poll, and for the second time running slightly improved its performance: up 0.9% and two seats to 25.4% and 69 seats. But in a parliament of 240 that’s a long way short of a majority.

The joint reformist ticket We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria (PP-DB) was close behind with 23.5% and 64 seats, although that was down 3.2% and nine seats on the combined total that the two parties had managed last time. The far-right Revival jumped ten seats to finish third with 37; some of its gain probably came at the expense of another nationalist (but pro-Russian) party, Bulgarian Rise, which with 2.95% fell just below the 3% threshold and therefore lost all of its 12 seats.

Completing the roster are the other two establishment parties, DPS (centrist) and the Socialists (centre-left but also pro-Russian), with 36 and 23 seats respectively, and the reformist/populist There Is Such a People (ITN), which returned to parliament with 3.9% and 11 seats. A new left-wing ticket, The Left!, failed to make the cut with 2.1%.

Once again, what’s needed is some form of co-operation between GERB and PP-DB, who have a clear majority between them. The only other even vaguely plausible majority combination is that of the three establishment parties (GERB, DPS and Socialists) together, which would amount to 128 seats. But their historical antagonism has been exacerbated by differences over the war in Ukraine, making it most improbable. Other (just) conceivable alliances, GERB+Revival+ITN and PP-DB+DPS+ITN, would fall short with 117 and 111 seats respectively.

Getting the two largest parties to work together looks like being as hard as ever. Yet Bulgaria can’t keep holding elections forever; on the ruling issue of the day, the Ukraine war, voters have expressed a clear view, with the pro-Ukraine parties (GERB, PP-DB and DPS) winning the majority of both votes and seats. Now it’s up to the politicians to produce a government accordingly.

One report suggests that GERB and PP-DB might agree to support a technocratic government that would at least pass a budget and deal with other urgent matters – and provide something of a break from endless elections.

The result in Montenegro also came as no surprise. In the first round, incumbent president Milo Đukanović led with 35.4% against 28.9% for centrist challenger Jakov Milatović. Since most of the rest of the vote went to allies of Milatović it was always likely that he would prevail in the runoff, and so he did, with 58.9%. Turnout was a very healthy 70.1%.

Until the defeat of his party in the 2020 parliamentary election, Đukanović had been the de facto leader of Montenegro for nearly thirty years in various capacities, including four terms as prime minister. Before 2006, when he led it to independence, Montenegro had been united with Serbia in the remnant of Yugoslavia; opposition to Đukanović includes both conservative pro-Serbian forces as well as more liberal elements alienated by his increasing corruption and cronyism.

Milatović represents that liberal, pro-European wing, and although the presidency is mostly ceremonial, his victory is a good omen for his political allies in the parliamentary election scheduled for 11 June. They will be seeking a mandate to continue a pro-Ukrainian policy and to try to complete the accession talks to join the European Union, in process since 2012.


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