Bulgaria’s third election of 2021: more of the same?

By CJ Stowell
Southeast Europe Analyst

On November 14th, Bulgaria will be holding its third election of 2021. While President Rumen Radev will almost certainly remain in office, a new contender may make the parliamentary race and the subsequent coalition negotiations more interesting. New parties may not lead to new solutions, and it’s possible that Bulgaria will return to the polls again in early 2022.

Currently, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) is leading the polls, running on a platform of political stability. The populist party has been in power for over a decade, and some critics have argued that this call for stability is more appropriately framed as stagnation and the continuation of entrenched political interests (Lazarov, 2021). Nonetheless, after the opposition party, ‘There is Such a People,’ (ITN) failed to form a government after their win in the Summer elections, it appeared that it would be GERB leading in the November elections.

That is, until Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev, two Harvard educated businessmen who served as caretaker ministers, decided to create the ‘Change Continues’ party. Their platform is focused on anti-corruption, and they are currently competing for second place with the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Winning second place would be essential for ‘Change Continues’ or BSP to lead talks on forming a coalition.

Another new party does not mean that the latest election will be indicative of change in Bulgaria.  Professors Kevin Deegan-Krause and Tim Haughton describe the formation of new political parties in Bulgaria as a cycle where, “voters chase novelty and move on to even newer parties,” and the ‘Change Continues’ Party could reflect this trend. (Deegan-Krause and Haughton 2021) ITN’s rise to prominence and surprising victory in the summer elections was short lived, as they were unable to form a government and now they are polling close to 6th place. Although they may win seats in parliament, they will not have the same clout they carried in the earlier elections.

Nonetheless, preliminary polling in the presidential election indicates that President Rumen Radev will likely win the presidential election by a significant margin. The total combined percentage of the vote attributed to Radev’s competitors, Anastas Gerdjikov (GERB), Mustafa Karadaya (MRF), and Lozan Panov (DB), is about 37.4%. Radev is polling at 56%, which gives him a very solid lead. (Todorov 2021)

All this being said, Bulgaria in the short term is dealing with a high rate of COVID-19 infections and high energy costs, both of which could directly impact the electorate. In the long term, it has plans on adopting the euro by 2024, and wants to resolve EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia. The parliamentary crisis will only continue to exacerbate these issues, and it is not clear when we can expect a resolution.

References

Deegan-Krause, Kevin, and Tim Haughton. 2021. “When Voters Chase Novelty.” Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/11/12/bulgaria-elections-political-parties-stability-borissov-trifonov/.

Lazarov, Alexey. 2021. “The cost of the next government will be high.” Kapital BG. https://www.capital.bg/politika_i_ikonomika/bulgaria/2021/11/12/4278167_cenata_na_sledvashtoto_pravitelstvo/.

Todorov, Svetoslav. 2021. “Bulgarian Presidential Election: The Main Contenders.” balkaninsight.com. https://balkaninsight.com/2021/11/09/bulgarian-presidential-election-the-main-contenders/.

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