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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Bulgaria’s conservatives and liberals in tight race after elections

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Bulgaria held its fifth election in two years on Sunday, with no clear winner emerging from the vote. The conservative GERB party of former prime minister Boyko Borisov and the liberal We Continue the Change (PP) coalition led by Kiril Petkov were neck and neck, according to projections based on early results. Both parties support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, which has deepened the political crisis in the Balkan country. A pro-Russian party, Vazrazhdane, also gained ground, winning about 13 percent of the vote.

The election was triggered by the failure of any party to form a government after the previous elections in April and July 2021, which resulted in a fragmented parliament and a series of caretaker administrations. The country of 6.5 million people, which is a member of the European Union and NATO but has historical and cultural ties with Russia, has been plagued by corruption scandals, protests and economic woes.

The latest projections put GERB at 24-26 percent of the vote, slightly ahead of PP at 23-24 percent. Both parties would need to seek allies to form a majority in the 240-seat parliament. PP is a new formation that includes anti-corruption activists, entrepreneurs and former ministers who broke away from GERB. Petkov, a former finance minister, has accused Borisov of mismanagement and graft.

The ultra-nationalist Vazrazhdane party, which defends the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, increased its share of the vote from 10 percent in October to 13-14 percent in November. The party has called for closer ties with Russia and a referendum on Bulgaria’s membership in NATO. The party’s leader, Kostadin Kostadinov, said he was ready to cooperate with any party that respects Bulgaria’s sovereignty and national interests.

The turnout on Sunday was about 40 percent, slightly higher than in October but still the lowest in 30 years for both presidential and legislative elections. Many voters expressed disillusionment and fatigue with the political stalemate.

The election coincided with the first round of the presidential election, which saw incumbent Rumen Radev win 48 percent of the vote, falling short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Radev, an independent backed by the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), will face university professor Anastas Gerdzhikov, an independent supported by GERB, in the second round on November 21. Radev is widely expected to win a second term as he enjoys high popularity for his anti-corruption stance and criticism of Borisov.

The election results are unlikely to end the political crisis in Bulgaria anytime soon, as analysts predict that coalition talks will be difficult and protracted. Unless Borisov withdraws from politics or Petkov softens his stance against him, there is no clear path to forming a stable government that can address the country’s challenges.

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