Rival blocs level pegging after Bulgarian parliamentary vote, exit polls show
By Stoyan Nenov
SOFIA (Reuters) – A pro-Western reformist bloc and the centre-right grouping of ex-prime minister Boyko Borissov were running almost neck-and-neck after Bulgaria’s parliamentary election on Sunday, exit polls showed, pointing to lengthy and difficult coalition talks.
The reformist bloc, comprising We Continue the Change (PP) and Democratic Bulgaria (DB), won around 25.6% of the vote, an exit poll by GALLUP International showed, while the centre-right bloc led by Borissov’s GERB party had around 24.8%.
It was Bulgaria’s fifth election in two years, as personal antipathy between the leaders of the two main blocs has prevented them from cooperating to form a stable coalition government.
Failure yet again to produce a functioning government could undermine Bulgaria’s hopes of joining the euro currency zone in the near term and of being able to effectively use European Union COVID recovery aid.
The PP/DB accuse Borissov and his GERB party of presiding over rampant corruption in the EU’s poorest member state during their decade-long rule that ended in April 2021, something that Borissov denies.
For some voters, Borissov, a veteran of Bulgaria’s political scene, is seen as being able to offer a measure of stability amid soaring inflation and geopolitical concerns spurred by the Ukraine war.
PP leader Kiril Petkov, a 42-year-old Harvard graduate who served briefly as prime minister until mid-2022, has repeatedly ruled out cooperation with GERB and says Bulgaria must root out graft and become a more reliable, transparent EU member state.
‘A LITTLE BIT TIRED’
One political analyst said either a government of experts or some kind of coalition could finally emerge from Sunday’s vote.
“It’s the fifth election after all, so people are getting a little bit tired. They are going to punish parties that are unable or unwilling to come up with a government,” said Daniel Smilov of the Centre for Liberal Strategies.
“It doesn’t have to be a government designed to last four years. That would be a bit too ambitious, but some sort of a parliamentary government is needed,” he added.
Both Borissov and Petkov want Bulgaria, a NATO member albeit with close historic and cultural ties to Russia, to maintain its pro-Ukraine stance in the war.
However President Rumen Radev, whose role is largely ceremonial but who has wielded greater power in this period of political instability, has pushed for a more nuanced approach to the war.
Revival, a nationalist party sympathetic to Russian President Vladimir Putin, placed third in Sunday’s election, with around 14.2%, Gallup International said, representing the sharpest increase in support since Bulgaria’s last inconclusive election held in October 2022, when it had about 10%.
However its leader, Kostadin Kostadinov, speaking on Nova TV, said his party would not support a government led by either PP/DB or GERB but would focus on building up its own support.
Also set to enter parliament again are the ethnic Turkish MRF and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, according to the exit polls.
The continued deadlock in parliament has meant Bulgaria has been governed for much of the past two years by technocratic caretaker governments appointed by President Radev.
Turnout in Sunday’s vote was estimated at around 37%.
(Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by David Holmes and Philippa Fletcher)