Bulgaria in political crisis after Socialist candidate wins presidential election

Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova [L], Rumen Radev and Iliana Iotova. [Dnevnik, the EURACTIV partner in Bulgaria]

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said he will resign after Socialist-backed candidate, Rumen Radev,  a newcomer to politics, won the run-off of presidential election yesterday (13 November), by a landslide.

Radev won 59.4% of the vote, compared with 36.2% for the candidate of the ruling centre-right GERB party, Tsetska Tsacheva, with 99.3% of polling stations counted.

The results, which reflected exit polls, meant Radev will take office for a five-year term on 22 January next year. Bulgaria’s Vice President will be Iliana Iotova, currently an MEP from the S&D group.

On 7 November Radev won the first round of the election, in which a total of 21 candidates took part, with a comfortable lead over Tscheva, who is the speaker of the parliament and was tipped to become the first female president of Bulgaria.

Socialists' Radev leads Bulgaria presidential race

Bulgaria’s Socialist-backed candidate, Rumen Radev, led the first round of Bulgaria’s presidential election, partial official results showed early today (7 November), ahead of his main rival from the ruling centre-right GERB party.

Exit poll data show that many voters from all other political forces, including from Borissov’s centre-right force GERB, backed Radev at the run-off.

Radev, 53, entered Bulgarian politics on a wave of discontent with Borissov’s nearly 10-year rule, during which corruption remained deeply entrenched in society, as well as of concerns among voters over the refugee crisis and the situation in neighbouring Turkey.

A former air force commander, Radev has argued Bulgaria needs to be pragmatic in balancing the requirements of its European Union and NATO memberships while seeking ways to benefit from a relationship with Moscow.

As he had promised, Borissov said he will resign on Monday (today) or Tuesday, depending on which day the parliament will convene.

“The loss of GERB is definite and clear,” Borissov told reporters after exit polls were announced.

“In this election, the people showed us that something is not as it should be. That our priorities may be good, but obviously there are better ones. So the most democratic thing, the right thing to do is to (resign),” he said.

Borisov’s resignation would likely lead to an early election as soon as March and could be followed by months by difficult coalition talks among several political groupings.

According to constitution the president must give the mandate to Borissov, as leader of the political force who won the last parliamentary election, for an attempt to form another cabinet.

But Borissov made it clear he will return the mandate. Then the president should give the mandate to the second political force, the Socialists. Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova too said she will return the mandate.

Early general elections

Thus the country is expected to head for early general elections, and the incumbent president Rossen Plevneliev, who was a candidate of GERB, is expected to appoint a caretaker government and announce the date for the poll.

It is, however, unusual that an outgoing president would appoint a caretaker government which is expected to remain in place under a new president. In theory, Bulgaria could have a second caretaker government appointed by Radev, after he takes office on 22 January.

Commentators agree that two caretaker governments are not an option and suggest Plevneliev and Radev should together agree on the caretaker cabinet, despite their political differences.

Plevneliev congratulated Radev and invited him for a meeting later today.

Commentators say that despite the election setback GERB is expected to remain the largest force after the early election. It is difficult to imagine what type of coalition could GERB build, as Borissov’s party has few allies left.

Geopolitical orientation

Radev has been dubbed by the Western press as pro-Russian, and his election is seen a blow to the country’s western European allies, underscoring Moscow’s growing influence in southeastern Europe.

But Radev has insisted that he has no plans to change the geopolitical orientation and has reminded that as a military pilot, he has “risked everyday” his life for NATO.

Asked about the future of EU sanctions against Russia, Radev said yesterday this is an issue to be discussed with the European Union partners and to be decided by the government.

The Bulgarian president has no executive functions and usually the country is represented at EU summits by the Prime Minister.

Commentators have said that in fact, Radev, who is not a socialist, is more of an anti-system candidate, similar to Donald Trump in the USA.

Speaking to the press after his election was announced, Radev said he hoped for good dialogue both with the United States and Russia and expressed hopes that with Donald Trump in Washington, there will be a drop in confrontations between the West and Moscow.

“In his election campaign (Donald Trump), already elected, said clearly that he will work for a better dialogue with Russia. That gives us hope, a big hope, for a peaceful solution to the conflicts both in Syria and in Ukraine and for a decrease of the confrontation,” Radev said.

New Bulgarian commissioner

Bulgaria needs to name a new Commissioner after Kristalina Georgieva earlier this month announced she will take a job with the World Bank.

Georgieva resigned from the Commission at very short notice

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker only learned that his deputy Kristalina Georgieva would take a job at the World Bank on the same day she resigned from the EU executive (28 October), a source close to Juncker told EURACTIV.com.

Asked about the appointment of a new commissioner, Radev said he will insist on being consulted. In theory, Borissov could propose a name before he steps down, or Plevneliev’s caretaker cabinet could name a commissioner without consulting the president-elect.

Sources told euractiv.com that former Bulgarian commissioner Meglena Kuneva, who is now deputy prime minister for education in Borissov’s government, was in Brussels in a lobbying effort to return to the EU executive. Kuneva’s popularity in Bulgaria is at its lowest, as she has  too often changed political affiliations and made controversial decisions as education minister.

Subscribe to our newsletters