Parliamentary Elections in Bulgaria: Results and Prospects

At the early parliamentary elections which took place in Bulgaria on March 26, 32.65% of voters voted for the center-right party "Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria" (GERB). The party can occupy up to 97 seats out of 240 in the National Assembly. 27.20% of citizens voted for the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which can get 81 seats. The coalition of nationalist forces "United Patriots" is in the third place – it got 9.07% of voters (28 seats). The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), representing Bulgarian Turks and Muslims, gained 8.99% of votes (21 seats). New right-populist party "Volya", created by Bulgarian businessman Veselin Mareshki, whom some experts call "Bulgarian Trump", got 4.15% of voters (13 seats).

As expected, the main intrigue is not connected with relative favorite of the elections, but who will be able to form a coalition government. Although GERB has preferable chances, it is possible that potential partners, tired of its long domination on the domestic political scene, will prefer weaker socialists, which can be more bargain-friendly. This has already happened.

Abstractly speaking, a key position belongs to the nationalist coalition. But it remains heterogeneous and not so strong, uniting pro-European and pro-Russian nationalists. Moreover, the ambitious leaders, who are members of this bloc of parties, have difficult personal relationships. All the contenders to head the cabinet are tempted to try to split it. Despite the scandal in relations between Bulgaria and Turkey immediately before the elections, there is a considerable potential for the DPS, which previously predetermined the composition of ruling coalitions and offices, especially since its rival breakaway party "Democrats for Responsibility, Freedom and Tolerance" (DOST) (supported by Erdogan), did not overcome the 4% barrier, necessary to pass into the parliament. Any new head of the Bulgarian government will try to smooth the conflict and normalize relations with Turkey, because Bulgaria is very worried that Erdogan can reopen the border for refugees.

Much depends on the intentions of Veselin Mareshki. He has already expressed his readiness to negotiate with Boiko Borisov, but he did not refuse other options. In any case, the negotiations period promises to be rather long, and the formed government will be quite vulnerable to blackmails from minor partners and not very strong. We cannot exclude new early elections, either because of unsuccessful attempts to form the cabinet, or as a result of the rapid collapse of a fragile coalition.

The Bulgarians have positive attitude toward Russia (72%, according to a Eurobarometer poll in autumn 2016). But the idea of "Euroscepticism" of the Bulgarians is greatly exaggerated. The same survey showed that Bulgarians experienced greater "euro-optimism" than average EU citizens, but are much more critical toward the domestic situation in the country, they trust the EU and its institutions much more than its own government and parliament.

If Boiko Borisov returns to power, the Bulgarian-Russian relations will remain in the framework of relations between the EU and Russia. If pro-Russian nationalists appear in his coalition cabinet, they will probably be able to hamper anti-Russian initiatives, but they can hardly count on more. If the BSP heads the coalition cabinet, it is logical to expect certain steps to resume economic cooperation with Russia. But in this case it is also better not to confuse the pre-election rhetoric of socialists with subsequent political practice. Although Rumen Radev came to power with the support of socialists, the president in the country's political system has extremely limited powers and can hardly go beyond the established framework. In general, the results of the elections can be rightly interpreted as intermediate in the process of confrontation between major political rivals.

Pavel Kandel is Senior Scientific Associate, Institute of Europe, Russian Academy of Sciences.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.