Bulgarians voted on Sunday (12 May) to send four parties to the 240-seat parliament, but with preliminary results showing a horse race between the two leading political blocs, analysts doubted that the party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov stood little chance of forming a government.
With 69% of the ballots counted, Borissov’s GERB (Citizens for a European Development of Bulgaria) was ahead with 31.3%, followed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) with 27.3%, the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS) with 9.1% and Ataka with 7.6%.
None of the remaining 41 parties that took part were able to cross the 4% threshold for representation in the next parliament.
GERB had enjoyed a comfortable lead over BSP earlier this year, but its edge has eroded amid economic malaise and an unfolding wiretapping scandal, dubbed by the news media as ‘the Bulgarian Watergate’.
BSP, which is led by Sergei Stanishev, leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES), was on course for its best electoral showing since 2005. After that contest, Stanishev became prime minister in a coalition government with DPS, a party traditionally representing Bulgaria's Turkish and Muslim population, and the party of former king Simeon Saxe-Cobourg Gotha, the support for which has melted in the meantime.
Stanishev announced that even if his party won, he would not be prime minister, and suggested that Plamen Oresharski, a technocrat economist, become the next premier.
Speaking at a press conference early Monday, Stanishev said that the only possible government for the country is a cabinet for national salvation. He said he would consult with all other parties except GERB, including forces not represented in parliament.
Stanishev also slammed caretaker Prime Minister Marin Raykov, a career diplomat, for what he called a ‘dismal’ organisation of the elections.
Coalition troubles ahead
Analysts and political scientists said GERB found itself in isolation and would not be able to form a government. Sociologist Andrey Raychev said “GERB has won the election but lost the power.”
DPS leader Lytvi Mestan and Volen Siderov, leader of nationalist party Ataka, both said their parties would support GERB in a coalition effort.
Ataka was seen as the only player with whom Borissov’s force could form a coalition, but Siderov made it clear that he was disappointed by GERB’s attitude toward his members in the former parliament.
In 2009, GERB obtained 39.7% of the vote and formed a minority government, supported by Ataka. But GERB put pressure on several Ataka MPs to defect, dwarfing Siderov’s party.
Siderov predicted that Bulgaria was heading for another election in autumn.
Despite the tradition that the winner of the elections be the first to give a press conference, Borissov didn’t appear at the international press centre. The party’s number two, Tzvetan Tzvetanov, former interior minister, said GERB would hold consultations for forming a minority government led by Borissov. However, analysts said such a minority government didn’t stand a chance of success.
Confidence in GERB was further undermined when on Saturday prosecutors seized 350,000 unregistered ballots in a printing house owned by a GERB activist. Journalist Nikolay Barekov, who broke the news, said that Borissov and Tzvetanov “will not leave [him] alive” for the harm he had done to them.
The 350,000 ballots amount to 10% of the total anticipated vote. Stanishev called the ballot discovery an “unprecedented conspiracy against democracy”, while Mestan said that it constituted “an attempted coup d’état”.
Election fraud was reported in various locations, including alleged vote-buying among the Romani population. For the first time ever, a person who attempted buy votes in a village near the city of Pleven was convicted and sent to jail on the same day.
According to many observers, the main game-changer in Bulgaria is the new Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov, who has charged GERB activists in the eavesdropping case as well as in cases of election fraud.
While the press conferences were ongoing, protestors outside the Palace of Culture where the international press centre is located shouted “Mafia” at the politicians and threw bottles and toilet paper rolls at the police. The turnout was just over 50%.
The election was followed by 250 foreign observers. Five opposition parties hire the Austrian company SORA, which is specialised in parallel vote counts. Its website was hacked on election night.