Presidential elections are due to be held in the autumn. Here's why coalition partners will not decide its outcome.
The 45th Bulgarian Parliament was the shortest-lived in the modern history of the country. It is also the first Parliament that failed to form a government, which led to snap elections on July 11. Even after the polls, many uncertainties about government formation remain on the horizon.
After the April 4 elections, none of the parties won the majority or succeeded in forming a government; a majority needed at least 121 out of 240 seats. The political outlook on July 11 was not significantly different. The only noticeable change was that the newcomer Slavi Trifonov — a TV host and pop star — and his party There are Such People got better results than any other party, including the incumbent winner.
In other words: Boyko Borisov, Europe's longest-serving populist leader, has lost terribly.
In a Facebook post after the first election, Borisov described himself as "the most experienced" and "knowledgeable toward Europe and the world" in a bid to save face. However, such rhetoric was not enough to convince voters: on July 11, Slavi Trifonov's party took the elections' first place with a 1 percent lead.
Once a bodyguard and firefighter, Borisov and his GERB had won five elections in a row. Then he was defeated by Trifonov, a man from the entertainment world.
The straw that broke the camel's back
Several events came together to end Borisov's dominance after 11 years in power. The mass anti-corruption protests of 2020 seriously weakened the ruling coalition. Corruption allegations and the unravelling of the nexus government-oligarchy-judiciary occurred slowly, but surely after 282 days of protest.
Borisov's former "loyal allies," namely nationalists from the "The United Patriots," did not secure enough votes to reach the 4 percent election threshold. Their bad results were a breeze of fresh air for the region — last year, to ensure their support, Sofia insisted that North Macedonia accept that the language spoken in the country is an offshoot dialect of Bulgarian, a path that could have somewhat dented the North Macedonia's EU accession process.
Additionally, DPS, the ethnic Turkish party, lost its role as a balancer. As a party that constantly took third place, they could only achieve fifth place this time due to corruption scandals and the subsequent rise of protest parties.
Nevertheless, Borisov won in April, but neither his 26.18 percent of votes nor his traditional allies were sufficiently influential in helping him form a new government.
The Sword of Damocles falls
A number of scandals have helped this fall. In May the interim deputy prime minister Stefan Yanev confirmed that the opposition's candidates engaged in espionage before the April elections. A little later, Boyko Rashkov, the interim Minister of Internal Affairs, said that there was evidence of spying on the protesters.
The next debilitating hit came In June 2021, as the Magnitsky Act shook the old political parties to the core. Vasil Bojkov, Ilko Zhelyazkov, and Delyan Peevski were charged with "abusing public institutions for profit." As a result, their individual and corporate access to the US financial system was blocked.
Peeveski was a four-time MP from DPS, while Zhelyazkov was the former deputy chief of the Bulgarian State Agency for Technical Operations, the country's covert intelligence-gathering service. The latter was appointed to the office with GERB and DPS' support. After the scandal, however, DPS's leader Mustafa Karadayi said that "Mr Peevski never been part of the decision-making process in the party," but "he is a friend of the party."
It was "the single largest action targeting corruption to date" under the umbrella of the Global Magnitsky Act.
Nevertheless, the real change brought by the election was the triumph of the establishment of so-called "protest parties," namely There are Such People, Democrats for Bulgaria and Stand Up! Mafia, Get Out!
Before the April election, Slavi Trifonov said that he viewed a possible coalition with the rest favourably. However, they did not have the required majority together. They faced the same issue in July.
Previously, Toshko Yordanov, vice chairman of There are Such People, called Borisov a "terrorist" and said that the party does "not negotiate with harmful people". The possibility of a coalition between them was swiftly dismissed.
The July election saw a record number of polling stations abroad. There were 784 in 68 countries, with 69 percent more than in the last election. As a result, one-third of the electors afield voted for There are Such People.
Back in Bulgaria, there were some traditional voting issues: vote selling. This practice took place primarily in the regions where the unemployment rate is high – some reports say that the rate was 80 Lv (€ 40) per vote. Shortly before the snap elections, Rashkov said that people exchanged votes for bread, wood, flour and other food items.
In April, a new law transformed the voting process into an electronic format. However, there were procurement problems, voting security concerns and issues with the devices' intolerance to the heat. Notwithstanding these matters, the traditionally low overall turnout increased from 50 percent in April to 42 in July.
Lastly, the interim government managed the situation well without GERB's lead. In June, data from the Centre of Analysis and Marketing indicated that 50 percent approved of its actions, while 30.7 has a negative attitude.
Some say that all this chaos could bring about a revival of Bulgarian parliamentarism: in contrast to Borisov's "one-man governance," this new situation could curb some power drifts. Others, however, state that GERB has an unwavering presence in all institutions despite its decreasing power.
Slavi Trifonov has avoided Bulgarian media and had only rare appearances on TV and social media. After the April election, the leader of There are Such People did not run for legislative elections. Instead, he stated on Facebook, "I will not run for the next Parliament because my place is not there." However, I can exercise responsibilities from another institution, but we will decide when the time comes."
Overall, the July parliamentary elections brought more questions than answers. Nevertheless, Presidential elections will be held in the autumn. This time around, the outcome will not be decided by coalition partners.