By Teodora Yovcheva (University of Sofia)

How many elections are needed to form a government? After the sixth parliamentary election in 4 years Bulgaria is trying to find the answer.
The date 9th June is when most of the European countries held European elections. In Bulgaria except European election in the same date parliamentary election was also held.

The reason
The story of the path to the sixth parliamentary election in Bulgaria is full of actions, reverses and unexpected outcomes. The early parliamentary election was scheduled after the difficult collaboration between GERB-SDS and the liberal center-right PP-DB ended in March 2024. The collaboration was illogical giving the fact that the main reason for the PP-DB alliance was to dethrone GERB-SDS. PP-DD is an alliance between “We continue the change” and Democratic Bulgaria. The one element – “Democratic Bulgaria” was an alliance between center-right DSB, the centrist “Yes, Bulgaria” and The Green Movement. The alliance is engaged mostly with anticorruption and rule of law agenda. More specifically, the alliance advocates for judicial reform in Bulgaria as a tool for combating the corruption in the high political levels. “We continue the Change” was formed in 2021 by the popular care-taker ministers of the finance and economics – Assen Vasilev and Kiril Petkov, appointed by the president Rumen Radev. “We continue the change” and “Democratic Bulgaria” joined forces in 2023 on the common ground of shared anticorruption priorities and the goal of isolating GERB from the executive. Nevertheless, after several critical moments including accident with the car of General Prosecutor, leaked records of conversations between politicians from PP, the rotational cabinet of Denkov (PP)/Gabriel (GERB), supported by PP-DB and GERB-SDS, was formed in June 2023. For this unexpected collaborations contributed the fact that Bulgaria had already held 5 parliamentary elections since 2021 and the ongoing war in Ukraine. GERB-SDS and PP-DB agreed on a government with rather unusual profile. The chair of the prime minister was supposed to be occupied successively first from Nikolay Denkov (PP) and after 9 months from Maria Gabriel (GERB). Most of the ministers was supposed to be either PP-DB nominees or independent technocrats. Since the collaboration between GERB-SDS and PP-DB was illogical, the alliances refused to sign a coalitional agreement. As a result, a lot of unclarified moments remained, including the mechanism of decision-making.
Despite the fact that the majority was not working smoothly, most political scientists expected that when the time comes (March 2023), there will be a rotation between Denkov and Gabriel and Maria Gabriel will be the next prime-minister. However, when the time came a lot of problem about the cabinet composition arise. The lack of coalition agreement further complicated the rotation. The parties realized this omission and started to propose options for coalition agreement. Despite the efforts, such agreement was not signed, the negotiations between GERB-SDS and PP-DB got more and more turbulent, and as a result, the rotation did not happened. The government collapsed and new early parliamentary election was scheduled for June 2024.

New election, new surprise
The political scientists warned that new elections are useless as the situation will not change much. The European experience show that nothing change much when snap elections are held. Bulgarian experience of three consecutive elections in 2021 confirmed this finding. The polls predicted that the composition of the old parliament would replicate. Moreover, the constant appeal of the voters to the polling stations led to the decreasing turnout. At the same time fragmentation and polarization were increasing. The far-right Vazrazhdane (Revival) found its way to pass the threshold in 2021 and to increase its share since then. Its ascent however was stopped last night by the new party – Velichie (Greatness). Velichie was the big surprise of the June elections by passing the threshold and gaining around 12 seats. Having the openness of the Bulgarian party system, emergence of new successful parties is not unusual. The cases of NDSV and PP are iconic in this way – they were formed a few months before parliamentary elections (in 2001 and 2021) and succeeded to win them. Nevertheless, their popularity has never been questioned. The case of Velichie is puzzling because most of the time the party was absent from the polls. Not much is known for Velichie, except that it is patriotic party established in 2023 with a focus on the national politics and not on foreign relations. They refuse to express firm statement on the Russian war against Ukraine. Its success is even more enigmatic, because Velichie’s leader is not popular or charismatic, a formula which usually works in Bulgaria. Velichie is based in a small town of North-East Bulgaria and even most of the political scientists were not familiar with this party.
The possible explanation behind the rise of Velichie is the protest vote against all the political parties or specifically against those parties with Euro-Atlantic orientation. The far-right pro-Russian party Vazrazhdane’s rhetoric is severely anti-European and anti-American. Exactly this intense anti-system rhetoric prevented Vazrazhdane from increasing its result. Velichie are seen as more moderate patriotic party without anti-EU and anti-NATO rhetoric. It is a conservative party without being openly pro-Russian or anti-European. More about this party will be known by its moves in the parliament.

Government formation
The big question however remains: Will a government be formed? The winner of the elections GERB-SDS has a lead of around 8% over the second. The government is even more fragmented than the previous with 7 parties passing the threshold in a situation of decrasing turnout. Having the experience from the cabinet Denkov, it is unlikely to see again a collaboration between GERB-SDS and PP-DB. The far-right Vazrazhdane declared that it will no cooperate with practically anyone. The Socialists also refused cooperation with GERB-SDS. On one hand, partiеs with similar ideological profile refuse to collaborate, because of the corruption problem, on the other hand, the ideological distance between the others prevents them to cooperate. In such a situation a stable formation of a government is unlikely. The expectations are for a government with a short horizon. Would that be a case, then downward spiral for the parties and the state is underway. If the post-communist party system like Bulgarian has the strengths to handle it and keep the fragile democracy, is even the bigger question.

Photo source:,ssim,trie