An inconclusive election at an unhappy time
Monday, 13 May 2013 21:33

THREE months after the resignation of the government of Boyko Borisov (pictured above) on the back of the biggest demonstrations in 16 years, Bulgarians went to the polls on May 12th. The result of the election will do little to give Bulgaria the clear leadership and stability the poorest member state of the European Union so badly needs.

After a campaign marred by wiretapping scandals and accusations of vote-rigging, Mr Borisov’s centre-right GERB party won 31% of the vote against the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which got 27% of the vote, according to preliminary official results. The Turkish minority party, DPS, came third with about 11%. The fourth party to enter parliament was Ataka, an ultra-nationalist group, which received about 7% of the votes.

“For the first time in Bulgaria’s new history a party has won two consecutive elections,” said Georgi Markov, a former judge at the Constitutional Court. “However, also for the first time, a party has won with such a few number of votes, just about a million.” The outcome of the vote suggests a hung parliament, observers say. With 98 deputies GERB is well short of a majority in the 240-seat parliament. The party lost about a third of its votes compared with the elections in 2009.

GERB’s slim lead means that weeks of horse trading and backroom deals are likely to ensue. This is about the last time Bulgaria needs at a time when people are angry and disillusioned with the political elite. A coalition including GERB seems unlikely because all party leaders refused to negotiate with Mr Borisov. A minority government led by GERB is also improbable. In fact, there are a few options for a stable government according to Ognyan Minchev, a political analyst. “The results will probably be a ‘hidden’ coalition, whether it’s called a programme or expert government.”

The leader of the Socialists, Sergey Stanishev, proposed such a programme cabinet led by the BSP and supported by DPS and Ataka. How such a configuration would work is unclear: the nationalist Ataka has long antagonised the Turkish minority party and wanted it banned.

This was a listless election at an unhappy time. Voter turnout was at a record low with just above 50%. The run-up to the election was overshadowed by scandals. A day before the elections prosecutors found 350,000 unaccounted-for ballots at a printing house whose owner is reportedly close to Mr Borisov’s party. That led the opposition to accuse GERB of trying to rig the vote. “This was a preparation for the total falsification of the elections,” said Mr Stanishev. Allegations of illegal wiretapping led prosecutors to accuse GERB's campaign manager and Tsvetan Tsvetanov, a former interior minister, of "deliberately allowing his subordinates, the directors of the wiretapping department, to commit crimes". Mr Tsvetanov, who cannot be charged because he has immunity as a parliamentary candidate, has denied any wrongdoing.

A recent report by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation said that “what remains after the protests and the elections is the large discrepancy between those in power in politics and business and the ‘simple’ citizens. It gives the impression that the Bulgarian society is split not along the ‘left’ and ‘right’ lines but by ‘above’ and ‘below’. To overcome this division is one of the biggest future challenges for the Bulgarian policy. Otherwise there is the danger that the gap between policy and those who do not feel represented by it will grow further.” The new government (if it can be cobbled together) has a big job at hand.

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