Bulgaria’s centre-right party has come out on top in Sunday’s election winning 33 percent of votes, with the Socialist party coming in second on 27 percent. The result means that the incumbent European Development of Bulgaria Party, known by its acronym GERB, will return to power to lead a coalition government. The Socialist BSP has already ruled out entering into coalition with GERB meaning it will likely have to form a government with an alliance of small right-wing nationalist parties. The outcome will see a return to the prime minister’s office for GERB leader Boyko Borisov who has dominated Bulgarian politics for the past ten years. The elections were triggered last November when the GERB candidate for President lost to the Socialist outsider Rumen Radev prompting Borisov to resign as prime minister.
Although polls had at some points during the campaign put the BSP ahead, the strong second place finish for the Socialists marks a resurgence for the party after a few years declining support. The turnaround in the BSP’s fortunes is credited to the election last year of Kornelia Ninova
as the first woman to lead the party in its 100-year history. Popular as she is among party supporters she has raised eyebrows in Europe by calling for closer ties to Russia and promising not to support further sanctions against Moscow if she had won the election. She was also criticised for comments she made during the campaign that were characterised as an attack on democracy, saying, “Democracy took away a lot from us. It took away our healthcare, education, security, but it gave us the freedom to think, to have an opinion and to fight for our rights.” Many Bulgarians found the comments insensitive given the party’s history. The BSP is the successor to the Communist Party that ruled Bulgaria from 1944 to 1990 employing political repression and secret police to remain in power.
The governing GERB party is no stranger to controversy either. In 2013 Borisov and the rest of the government resigned in the face of massive protests against endemic corruption and continuing poverty in what is Europe’s poorest country.
The coalition of right-wing parties, known as the United Patriots, with whom GERB may try to form a government, campaigned on a platform of anti-Roma, anti-immigration and anti-Turkish nationalism – a cause for concern in Brussels, which is worried about the rising tide of ultra-nationalism in Europe. On voting day, members of the United Patriots blocked the border crossing between Bulgaria and Turkey to prevent Bulgarian Turks from being bussed in from Turkey to vote in the election. Some 500,000 Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity live in Turkey but are eligible to vote in Bulgaria. The aim of the action was mainly to stop people from voting for the DOST party which represents Bulgaria’s Turkish minority and has been accused of being Ankara’s Trojan Horse in Bulgaria. The DOST party has so far received less than the 4% of votes required to enter parliament.
Final official results are expected on Thursday.