Monday, December 4, 2023

Third Bulgarian election in 2021 appears to break the logjam

Time for coalition talks
BNT File photo
Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission

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In Bulgaria’s November 14 elections, the tough anti-corruption oriented “We Continue the Change” party (PP), won 25.7% of the vote, based on a nearly-complete ballot count released November 16. After two inconclusive elections held previously this year, the PP party, launched only two months ago by two Harvard-educated entrepreneurs who also worked as interim ministers, was able to seize the fickle and politically exhausted Bulgarian electorate’s attention and beat the former ruling, and normally front running, conservative GERB party led by Boiko Borissov which garnered 22.7%.

The usual parliamentary math 
Once confirmed, the PP will be given the initial mandate to attempt to cobble together a workable coalition in the country’s 240-seat parliament. As a centrist party, its list of potential partners includes the “There Is Such a People (ITN)” party, headed by pop singer and former TV star Slavi Trifonov, which itself failed to form a workable coalition when handed the mandate over the summer. In this round the ITN garnered around 9.5 percent of the vote, a substantial drop from earlier this year. 

In trying to form an anti-GERB bloc, the PP’s leader, Kiril Petkov, has also hinted he will be talking seriously with right-wing “Democratic Bulgaria” (DB) party, which earned 6.3% percent of the vote as well as Bulgaria’s Socialist Party that garnered about 10.2 percent, performing unexpectedly poorly on Sunday. 

Initial contacts have already begun, but coalition talks can normally take weeks and as the world witnessed earlier this year can automatically trigger new elections after three parties fail, in succession, to assemble the required majority. 

Presidential runoff
The simultaneous presidential elections failed to produce a victor, consequently, a runoff for this largely ceremonial post is set for November 21. The runoff vote will be held between incumbent President Rumen Radev, who is endorsed by several parties including the PP and who came tantalizingly close to victory with 49.42 percent of the vote on November 14, and GERB-backed Anastas Gerdzhikov, who got 22.8 per cent, according to official final results from the Central Election Commission.

Regional impact
While foreign observers will certainly profess interest in watching yet another Bulgarian government pull itself together based on the almost perennial anti-corruption theme, most will be actually paying much more attention to how Bulgaria’s foreign policy takes shape. This is because the country’s long-running dispute with North Macedonia over language and identity have EU-wide ramifications; Bulgaria will not approve further EU Enlargement until satisfied. The resolution of this dispute does not guarantee other member states will move forward, and a number are hesitant. 

Discussions between Sofia and Skopje are slated to resume as soon as a new government takes over in Sofia, with most EU member states unwisely lined up against fellow member state Bulgaria’s claims that North Macedonia is little more than a cultural and historical offshoot of Bulgaria formed in the twentieth century for various political reasons. The Bulgarians have shown the ability to hold their own against North Macedonia’s historical revisionism and heavy pressure from its European Union and NGO supporters up to now and it can be assumed the pressure on Sofia will resume once a new government is named, quite possibly even mentioned in the congratulatory messages from major powers. Look for the use of the all-important term “regional stability” in those messages.

On the plus side, the weak government holding on in Skopje after Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Social Democrats did so poorly in October’s municipal elections might make the North Macedonian side more amenable to compromise, if it opts to go that route and not hide behind foreign supporters. 

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Co-founder and Executive Director for Global Economics and Southeast Europe at NE Global Media.  Former US diplomat with previous assignments in Eastern Europe, the UN, SE Asia, Greece, across the Balkans, as well as Washington DC.


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