Bulgaria's Election: Prime Minister Party Weakened by the Pro-Russian Groups

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov votes in Sunday's elections.
Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov votes in Sunday's elections. (AFP)



A victory of the populistic and non-political protest groups in Sunday's elections may result in an unstable government.

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will have difficulty holding onto power, after a surge of votes in an election on Sunday for anti-establishment and populist parties that want him out.

His center-right party GERB wins the April 4 parliamentary elections with roughly 25 per cent of the vote. According to opinion polls, the opposition Socialist Party took second place - getting 17.6 per cent of the vote, the Bulgarian service Radio Liberty reported.

The party "There is such a people" led by showman Slavi Trifonov is in third place - 15.2 per cent. It is called "protest" in connection with the organization in recent months of massive anti-government demonstrations.

Two more parties also participating in the protests - the Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms and the Bulgarian National Movement - retain their chances of participating in the 240-seat parliament.

The current ruling party's result indicates devastating loss compared with the 33.5 per cent of the vote it won four years ago.

After a decade of dominating Bulgarian politics, Mr. Borissov has few natural coalition partners.

Weeks of talks, or even another election, cannot be ruled out, meaning Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest member, may have difficulty tapping the EU’s 750 billion euro (US $884 billion) the virus Recovery Fund.

Speaking before official results were released, Mr. Borissov said GERB had won the vote and called on opposition leaders to consider a broad, expert government that would focus on bringing EU cash to the country battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Such a government could have a limited life until December, Mr. Borissov said.

The GERB party was involved in several corruption scandals, which sparked major anti-government protests. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Bulgarian cities last summer to protest attempts by the GERB party to influence court decisions against political opponents of the ruling party.

The international organization Transparency International classifies Bulgaria as one of the states with the highest level of corruption among the EU members.


A Populism tsunami

Complicating Mr. Borissov’s coalition-building options is the emergence of the anti-establishment There is Such a People party of popular TV host and singer Slavi Trifonov which has appealed to people fed up with graft-prone political elites.

Mr. Trifonov, 54, whose concerts peppered with patriotic songs have attracted thousands has ruled out governing with either GERB, the Socialists, or the ethnic Turkish MRF party.

But recently, Mr. Trifonov became a defender of Russia's investment in Europe especially the highly controversial Southern Stream, an extension of the gas pipeline from Turkey to Europe that would make it dependent on Russia's energy.

His popularity dates back to the 1990s, when he was a “chalga” singer. The pop-folk genre is a cultural phenomenon which has attracted controversy over its influence on the young often blamed for a surge of populism in politics.

Democratic Bulgaria, one of biggest forces in the massive protests last summer, won some 10-11%, the polls showed. Another protest party, Stand Up! Mafia Out! will also enter the next parliament.

Mr. Borissov’s government has presided over a 36 per cent increase in the average monthly salary to 1,468 levs ($882), has kept public debt low, and secured entry to the “waiting room” for joining the euro currency.

But its failure to tackle endemic corruption and reform the judiciary brought thousands of protesters onto the streets for months during 2020.





COMMENTARY

Bulgaria is an important member of NATO, which holds the elements of the missile defence system that plays a fundamental role in the defense of Europe and the United States. Mr. Borissov's government repeatedly blocked business-like attempts to make Bulgaria dependent on Russia's gas.

Since 1990, and especially after Mr. Putin became Russia's leader, Kremlin has made several attempts to infiltrate Bulgaria's economy and create the crisis.

Over the decade, Bulgaria has expelled several Russian spies. Most recently, two weeks ago, Sofia dismantled a ring of the Kremlin spies. Twelve Bulgarians and two Russians stole secrets about Bulgarian military affairs, as well as information concerning the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. Bulgaria expelled at least two Russian "diplomats".

Last summer, Western intelligence, including Germany's and France's, warned that the Kremlin and Beijing have been utilising populistic parties to destabilise the economic and political situation in the NATO countries.

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