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Bulgaria vote too close to call with risk of hung parliament

Bulgaria vote too close to call with risk of hung parliament

3 min. 12.07.2021 From our online archive
In the initial ballot held in April, a better-than-expected showing from the opposition blocked incumbent from a fourth term
Bulgaria PM Boyko Borissov
Bulgaria PM Boyko Borissov
Photo credit: STOYAN NENOV

Bulgaria’s do-over elections were too close to call as the former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s party was running neck and neck with an anti-establishment group led by a talk show host and pop star.

The result may produce a hung parliament and extend a political crisis that has hampered the country’s efforts to improve the European Union’s lowest living standards and worst corruption. The nation is also struggling to catch up vaccinating against Covid-19, where it ranks last in the bloc.

Borissov’s Gerb won 24%, followed by There Is Such a People, known as ITN, led by the TV star Stanislav Trifonov, with 23.5%, according to results with 89% of votes counted on Monday. The Socialists were third with 13.7%, followed by the anti-graft Democratic Bulgaria with 12.6%. Exit polls and earlier results showed ITN winning by a narrow margin.

President Rumen Radev will give the winner of the election the first chance to create a ruling coalition. If it fails, the second-placed party gets a turn. If that doesn’t work, a third will be chosen by the president for a last try before new elections are called.

In the initial ballot held in April, a better-than-expected showing from ITN blocked Borissov from a fourth term, as all other political parties refused to work with Gerb in government. With voters flocking to new protest parties calling to sweep out the nation’s scandal-prone elite, no one managed to muster majority support for a cabinet, which triggered a re-run of the vote.

“The parallel count showed that the winner in this election is There Is Such a People,” Toshko Yordanov, the party’s deputy chairman, said on Trifonov’s 7/8 TV channel late Sunday. “The votes from abroad still haven’t arrived. I hope that when they come, the results will be even more conclusive.”

Under Borissov, one of Europe’s longest-serving leads, the country of 7 million has remained in last place in the EU in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. While living standards have improved they remain at about half of the bloc’s average. Brussels has also criticised Bulgaria for failing to uphold the rule of law and has kept the country out of the passport-free travel Schengen zone.

Trifonov, a performer of the Balkan analog of gangster rap and the host of Bulgaria’s most popular late-night talk-show for almost two decades, has been railing against inequality and corruption even before Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007. Also known as “Slavi,” he has pledged to fight a “mafia model” he says gives oligarchs with ties to organised crime sway over politics and overhaul the electoral and justice systems.

Euro Debate

Both Borissov and Trifonov say they favour deepening ties with the EU, though each has voiced resistance to the bloc’s efforts to open membership talks with neighbouring North Macedonia, citing long-standing historical disputes.

Borissov wants Bulgaria to adopt the euro by 2024. Trifonov wants the currency too, but his adviser Toshko Yordanov, deputy chairman of There Is Such a People, warns against any “premature” move.

All mainstream parties are refusing to rule with Gerb, creating an enormous hurdle for Borissov to clinch a new term.

Trifonov, who isn’t running for parliament himself, has said it’s not his goal to become premier.

He’s potentially better placed to form a ruling coalition. His most-likely allies include two parties, Democratic Bulgaria and Rise Up! Thugs Out!, but an estimate by the Alpha Research pollster showed them winning only 111 seats, below the 121 they would need to have a majority in parliament.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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