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A coalition government will be needed in a country where citizens tend to trust EU politicians more than their own.
Parliamentary elections this Sunday, March 26, backed two-time Bulgarian premier Boyko Borisov for a possible third cabinet. Preliminary results put his pro-EU party in first place, having received almost 33% of the nation’s vote.
Five political groups enter the Parliament: right-wing GERB (chaired by former premier Borisov) 32.6%; leftist Socialist Party coalition (led by Kornelia Ninova) 27%; coalition of nationalistic parties “United Patriots” 9.1%; liberal Turkish and Roma supported minority party DPS 8.9%; and populist leadership “Volya” (run by businessman Veselin Mareshki who promised to make the country great again) 4.2%.
Borisov announced he would attempt a coalition to form a third government, an unprecedented achievement in Bulgaria’s recent history. He has already resigned from being Prime Minster twice before: once in 2013, after leftist protests against poverty and corruption; and a second time after GERB lost the Presidential Elections at the end of 2016. Because of his latter withdrawal, Bulgaria was forced to have third parliamentary elections in the past four years.
The Socialist Party coalition conceded defeat late on Sunday evening. BSP leader Ninova announced they would look at options to form a government if GERB appears unable to do that. The socialists doubled their support from the last parliamentary vote in 2014.
WILL BORISOV SUCCEED?
Whether Borisov will succeed to form a stable coalition is still a good question. The former fire-fighter and mayor of Sofia ruled out a possible alliance either with the Socialist Party, or with DPS. Thus, GERB’s best perspective is to attempt a three party coalition with the “United Patriots” (nationalistic, anti-minority, anti-immigration coalition) and with populist Veselin Mareshki (a self-declared “Bulgarian Trump” businessman who made a fortune out of selling medicines and cheap gas).
Political observer Andrey Smilov dismisses the hard stance against a grand coalition between right-wing GERB and left-wing BSP as campaign rhetoric. “There's actually plenty of room for cooperation beneath the surface,” Smilov says. “One option would be a sort of government of experts to placate and convince voters that such a coalition is necessary in the interests of security or to combat the refugee influx.” Whatever the development, the new government looks to be an unstable one, and most probably reluctant to tackle the country’s great issues: corruption, economic stagnation, poverty and faltering health and education systems.
None of the right wing parties who inherited the former anti-Communist Democratic party of Bulgaria managed to overcome the four percent crossing bar. Thus, the new Bulgarian Parliament will only have one EPP member party (GERB) and one PES party (BSP).
MOST BULGARIANS PRO-EU
The majority of the Bulgarian population are pro-EU, recognizing its role in protecting Bulgaria from an influx of refugees and its economic and anti-corruption support. Political rhetoric from all parties, including nationalist ones, mirrors public sentiment. With the vast corruption in the country, Bulgarians tend to trust EU politicians more than their own. They hope the EU would serve as a solution to national problems.
On January 1, 2018, Bulgaria will take over presidency of the EU Council. The UK was due to assume the rotating presidency of the Council from 1 July 2017, but with the procedure of leaving the Union, Britain is now no longer able to take part in any EU decision-making, which also means that it could not assume the EU presidency. In that case, Estonia will replace the UK as President of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2017, followed by Bulgaria in the first half or 2018.
RUSSIAN INFLUENCE IS GROWING
Russian influence has been growing over Bulgaria, which traditionally has a pro-Russian history. As an EU member, it is part of EU sanctions against Russia.
Rumen Radev, elected Bulgarian president in the end of 2016 and supported by the socialists, has called these sanctions into question.
Energy projects backed by Russia play a primary role in what divides GERB and BSP. The Socialists want to see a nuclear power plant and gas pipeline come to fruition and be financed by the state. GERB and the other EPP parties are skeptical.