By Teodora Yovcheva (University of Sofia)
Yesterday’s parliamentary election in Bulgaria was the first regular one since 2009. The results surprised everyone. GERB won the elections but it looks like the anti-establishment and protest parties and coalitions won more than it was predicted for them by the polls. The biggest oppositional party in the parliament came third after the new populist project – “There are such people”. The big number of parties and the confrontation between them during the election campaign foreshadowed difficult negotiations to form a government.
The peripeteia before GERB and Borisov so far
Although the winner of the election – GERB and its leader Boyko Borissov have been in government since 2009 for the most of the time, their ruling has been far from smooth. First, in the winter of 2013 after protests over the price of electricity Borissov resigned, but GERB succeeded to win the early election. However, the party remained in opposition, as its lead was not enough for a one-party cabinet, nor did it find suitable coalition partners. As a result, the Socialist party (BSP) together with DPS, the party representing the Turkish minority, formed a government but it was short-lived, due to the massive protests of the summer in 2013. Early election was called again and GERB won them for the third time. Together with the Reformist block they formed a cabinet, which governed for only 2 years after Borissov decided to resign, because of the unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2016. The new election was again won by GERB and a new coalition cabinet was formed with the nationalistic coalition – United Patriots.
The summer protests as one of the reasons for the result
Given that Borissov has resigned twice, it was possible that he would do so for the third time. The reason for it is the mass antigovernmental protests during the summer of 2020. The streets of Sofia and the big cities were filled with citizens protesting against the government. Unlike the protests in many European countries, those in Bulgaria were not related to the COVID crisis. They erupted after Hristo Ivanov, the leader of the party “Yes, Bulgaria”, tried to reach a beach and he was prevented by bodyguards. The beach Rosenetz is near to a property owned by Ahmed Dogan, the former leader of DPS. His aim was to show that the land is illegally occupied by Dogan and some politicians are untouchable. As a result, antigovernmental protests erupted blaming the cabinet for state extortion and state capture. Given the mass of protests, it seemed as if the resignation of the government was expected every day. Nevertheless, the government survived by becoming the only government led by Borissov that served a full term. Practically it is the only government which had full term in office since 2009.
The protests did not achieve their goal, but had several important impacts on yesterday’s election. First, they boosted the rating of Democratic Bulgaria, a coalition from three parties “Yes, Bulgaria”, DSB and Green Movement, whose voters are mainly based in Sofia and the big cities. Supporters of Democratic Bulgaria are predominantly intellectuals, young people educated abroad and people with high income. The action of Hristo Ivanov at Rosenetz and the active role of the party in the protests could be seen as one of the factors which made Democratic Bulgaria, a certain participant in the parliament. Nevertheless, it was not expected that the coalition would surpass DPS, a constant member of parliament during the democratic period and this is only one of the surprises form the election night.
The protests also impacted on one of the new participants in the parliament – “Stand up! Mafia out!”. They deepened the coalition around Maya Manolova and practically formed it as subject able to pass the threshold. Maya Manolova was MP from BSP (2005 – 2015) untill she was elected from the parliament as national ombudsman in 2015. Since then, her personal rating steadily has been growing and together with the president Rumen Radev – she became one of the most approved public figures. She strengthened her position as a critic of GERB by running for mayor of the capital – Sofia and reached a runoff. Despite her success, she refused to establish a party and instead of it set up a citizens platform “Stand Up.BG”. As a critic of GERB Manolova actively participated in the protests. During them she deepened the cooperation between her, the leaders of the protests, and the parties: „Bulgaria for Citizens Movement“, “Volt” and “Movement 21”. The coalition is very heterogeneous as „Bulgaria for Citizens Movement“ was a member of the Reformist Block, one of the most severe opponents of BSP, and Manolova is a former BSP member. On the other hand, “Movement 21” is a party established by Tatyana Doncheva, also former BSP member, which facilitates the cooperation between her party and Manolova. Nevertheless, the prospect of electoral gains due to the popularity of Manolova, made the coalition of the parties possible. Their participation in the protests helped them pass the electoral barrier.
The big surprise however is “There are such people” – the party established by the popular singer and TV host Slavi Trifonov. The exit polls and parallel counting of the ballots show that the party comes second surpassing BSP. The Socialists hasn’t been third political force since 2001 when Simeon Saxe-Coburgh-Gotta and his formation won the election. This means that if GERB do not succeed to form a government, the president will be obliged to give Trifonov’s party mandate to do it. This may be the first political test for the populist formation. Also, it is very likely that the party will increase its result if there are early parliamentary elections.
Signs of an upcoming political crisis
There was signal for the upcoming political uncertainty during the electoral campaign. Almost every party declared non-cooperation with GERB although the polls predicted a victory for them. Moreover, the parties were reluctant about future cooperation with one another. All of this predicts difficult government formation after the election.
The numbers shows that GERB needs to find partners for cabinet formation. The problem is that most of the parties and coalition rejected such cooperation during the campaign which makes the projection even more difficult. If the parties keep their intention, then anti-GERB coalition can be expected. It would include Democratic Bulgaria, “There are such people”, “Stand up! Mafia out” and BSP as either a partner in the governmental coalition or supporter for the parliament majority. However, it is unlikely scenario as Democratic Bulgaria would be reluctant to govern with the support of BSP.
Another possible scenario is government to be formed by “There are such people”. According to the projected seats, the party will need support. It could be expected that GERB would support such cabinet because if the government cannot be formed, then the president, who relates on the support of BSP, will appoint a caretaker government. Also, being in opposition could increase the vote for GERB since the party gained negatives while in government. This is an opportunity for them to be strong opposition to a populist government.
Acknowledging the fact that “Stand up! Mafia out!”, has two prominent figures, who are former members of BSP, the coalition between them, BSP and “There are such people” cannot be excluded. “Stand up! Mafia out!” has already declared willingness to cooperate with “There are such people”. Even if the three parties form coalition, they still will need a fourth partner. If the initiative is taken by BSP, this partner could be DPS. This way “There are such people” will break its promises not to cooperate with DPS and BSP.
Also, another possible scenario is a technocratic government to be formed. Borissov has already gave signs that he appeals for such option. Then the parties will need to find a person who is acceptable for most of them. This scenario also seems plausible if the strict intention is cabinet to be formed. This option however has its critics because it opens a door for dubious decisions and lack of political responsibility. If the parties do not succeed to form a government another parliamentary election would be held in the summer.
One is clear: If someone is willing to for a coalition it should be ready for long negotiations and many compromises with prelection declaration and with its rating.
The government formation seems not to be an easy task. Except of the abovementioned factors there is a third one. It is possible that the president would not hurry to give the mandate to form a government to GERB. According to the Constitution, he must give the mandate to the party that won the election, but there is no explicit deadline for this. Given that President Rumen Radev is a fierce critic of GERB, we can expect that he will not be in a hurry to do it or will do so reluctantly.
One of the most interesting scenarios is exactly in the case when a government is not formed. In that case, the president will dissolve parliament with his decree, appoint a caretaker government and set a date for new elections in the summer. However, If the newly elected parliament again cannot form a government, the president cannot dissolve it. The reason is the upcoming presidential election expected in November. According to the constitution, the parliament is the body that by its decision sets the date for the election of the president and vice president. In this way, a government not elected by parliament would run similar to presidential regime.
The probability of reaching this scenario is not high, but it should not be ignored. In this way, elections can be a test of a country’s constitutional maturity.
Photo source: https://bit.ly/39JaMWh