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The Promise of the Bulgarian Elections: The Fragile Coalition

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Bulgaria is going through a severe political crisis that has required three early general elections in the past eight months. The 14 November 2021 elections, like the 4 April 2021 and 11 July 2021 elections, could not clearly highlight any political party. The competition of which six political parties crossed the election threshold, again imposes a coalition government. It is going to be understood in a short time how possible it will be for the political parties, which could not achieve rapprochement for eight months, to reach a consensus now. The elapsed time has shown that other political parties agree in opposition to Boyko Borisov, who was in power between 2009-2021, and the Citizens’ Party for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB).

Although those who can establish a coalition come with the promise of fighting corruption, they do not want to be associated with GERB, which is accused of bribery and corruption after a while. For this reason, according to the preliminary results, GERB, which completed the 14 November 2021 elections as the second party with 22.2 percent of the vote, will again not find a coalition partner or outside support.

The We Continue The Change Party (PP), which was founded just seven weeks ago, made a surprise with the vote it received in proportion as 25.4 percent and completed the elections as the first party. In the race made for the 240-seat Bulgarian parliament, There Is Such People Party (ITN), which won the July elections, won 24.1 percent of the vote and elected 65 deputies. The GERB who became the secondary party obtained 63 seats with 23.5 percent of the vote. Now, the voting rates of PP and GERB have been occured in a similar way. It is foreseen that the number of deputies will be 78 to 58.

The reason for the political crisis in Bulgaria, which was determined as the country with the worst performance in the fight against corruption in the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, is the failure in the fight against corruption and criminal organizations. The case which enthroned Borisov with 32.9 percent of the vote in 2009 elections was his promise to fight against coruption. Even though Borisov struggled with the crime, corruption, and criminal enterprises at the beginning,  his attempts remained in the size of the fight against petty corruption. The existence of a party named as “Stand Up! Mafia Out!” and its ability to pass the threshold in both April and July elections is an indication that Borisov is inadequate regarding of this situation. Likewise, GERB was confronted with bribery and corruption charges.

The biggest chance of GERB, which maintains a significant part of its support at the base, is that it has not yet come across a political formation strong enough to fill its place. The economic crisis, the inability to become the poorest country in the European Union (EU), the fact that the youth of the country had to go to other countries of the EU to work and the perception of Borisov becoming authoritarian increased the desire for a serious change in management in the country.

Another party that the people hold responsible for the problems in Bulgaria in general, the BSP, the Socialists, continues to bleed. The BSP, which was the second party with 16 percent of the votes in the 2017 elections, came out of the polls as the third party by getting 14.79 percent of the votes and winning 43 seats in the April 4, 2021 elections, so in the elections dated July 11, 2021, he received 13.4 percent of the vote and elected 36 deputies. Now it is competing with the Movement of Rights and Freedoms Party (MRF) for the third place. The situation before adding the votes cast abroad1 shows that BSP is positioned as the fourth party with 10.3 percent of the votes.

 It is seen that the MRF, whose members are mostly Turks, received 14 percent of the votes.

In this case, the Socialists will take place in the 47th National Assembly of Bulgaria with 26-28 seats and MRF with 36-38 seats. It should be noted that Rumen Radev2, who was elected President in November 2016 with the support of the socialists and took office in January 2017, could not maintain his neutrality in his office and entered a power struggle with the ruling party and then Prime Minister Borisov. Socialists actually entered the last three elections with the support of the President, but lost votes. Radev, whose term of office expired, became a candidate to be elected President for the second time, and the parliamentary and presidential elections were coincided with the same day.

The surprise of the 14 November elections was the strong exit of the PP, which was established under the leadership of Kiril Petkov and Asen Vassilev, with the gathering of some of the members of the interim government established with the technocrats appointed by the President during the eight-month election period. Since the votes of the other parties were changed in low scores, it can be thought that the PP got the weighted vote from the Such Bir Halk Var Party (ITN), which came first with 24.1 percent of the votes in the July 2021 elections.

ITN, which was seen to have lost its support in the public opinion polls, received 9.8 percent of the votes in the 14 November elections and was able to elect approximately 24 deputies. The failure to form a coalition government after the July elections and the emergence of a new party may be the reason for the drop in votes. The leader of ITN is Slavi Trifonov, who is a successful singer, showman on most watched programs, and in fact, has also had a striking impact on Bulgarian politics by leading the protests that resulted in the resignation of the Socialist Videnov government in 1997. He had a rapidly growing support, mainly as a result of the public getting fed up with well-known politicians like the comedian Vladimir Zelenskiy, who was elected President of Ukraine. However, sometimes opposing identities are not as successful as they are in the opposition, taking the responsibility of the administration and showing the intention of power. Now, the Bulgarian voters seem to have given the same support to the technocrats who came together in the PP.

Conclusion

Bulgarian politics is in a serious jam. It is obvious that consecutive elections do not offer an option other than a fragmented coalition; in addition, it is also seen that a government out of the crisis is needed. Nevertheless, if the coalition with GERB is to be a partner in the corruption-bribery accusation and the continuation of poverty, making it difficult for a coalition that will take the country out of the political crisis will cause it to be seen as the party that continues the crisis.

Considering that socialists are also seen as accomplices, partnerships that exclude GERB and BSP will come to the fore.3 Changes in the electoral system of the new government to be established and working on a system that will allow the first party to get more deputies may offer a solution to the government crises that Bulgaria has to deal with frequently. Such a system change may not find supporters in a multi-part parliament as it is now, as it would reduce the number of seats in the second, third and subsequent parties and could lead the country to a two-party system. However, Bulgarian voters have already shown that they want a serious change in management. It is also clear that some changes are needed in the Bulgarian electoral system for economic development, a functioning democracy and stable governments.

MRF regained its status as the third party of the country it lost in the last elections. It seems to have captured 14 percent of the votes it received in the 2009 and 2014 elections. Although there are parties advocating the exclusion of MRF from the coalition, its role as the key party that will ensure the continuity of the government continues to exist. It can also maintain this role in the form of external support. In this process, negotiations will be held regarding which party will support which candidate for the presidential race, which has reached the second round. The leader of MRF, Mustafa Karadayı, was also a candidate in the first round of the presidential election, and in the second round election to be held between the two candidates who received the most votes, which candidate the base of MRF will turn to will also be a factor that will affect the result. As a matter of fact, MRF had a decisive influence in the previous presidential elections as well.

The second round of the presidential election will take place between Radev, who had to run as an independent candidate while planning to get the support of the PP, this time instead of the Socialists, and Anastas Gerdzhikov, an academic and an independent candidate supported by GERB. The second round, which will be held on November 21, 2021, will also be an indicator of what kind of President Bulgaria wants. This is because Radev tried to play a decisive role in the country’s politics by going beyond the definition of symbolic duties during his tenure. Both the race to govern with the Prime Minister and the moves and exits that affect the foreign policy of the country are remarkable.

The fact that Radev went beyond his symbolic duties was a normal consequence of the Bulgarian Presidency Parliamentary System. In such government systems, the election of the President, who is equipped with symbolic duties, by popular vote gives the President a legitimacy that is incompatible with her duties and irresponsibility. In such government systems, the election of the President, who is equipped with symbolic duties, by popular vote gives the President a legitimacy that is incompatible with his duties and irresponsibility. In cases where the President cannot remain impartial and especially continues to act as a representative of the opposition party, the system is similar to the Semi-Presidential System and opens the door to large and small crises in the administration; this is what is happening in Bulgaria. For this reason, Radev said after the elections, “Bulgarians see that the Presidency has a special weight in times of crisis.” The equivalent of the word in Bulgarian voters will be seen on the evening of 21 November 2021. The election will also be an indicator of the Russian and American tendencies of the Bulgarian voters. However, against the USA, which is trying to influence the domestic politics of the country through the PP by conducting deep political engineering, Russia will not remain unresponsive and will play its own game. After the presidential elections, a coalition government, albeit fragile, can be expected to emerge from the parliament.

[1] In Turkey, 120 ballot boxes were set up for approximately 350 thousand voters. Turnout was higher than in previous elections.

2 Rumen Radev rejected the accusation that he was pro-Russian, on the grounds that he graduated from the US military academy and held several NATO exercises in Bulgaria. He also explained his opposition to the sanctions against Russia with the approach that the sanction essentially harms the EU and Russia. “Sanctions Hurt Russia and the EU Says Bulgaria President Rumen Radev”, Euronews, https://www.euronews.com/2017/02/16/sanctions-hurt-russia-and-the-eu-says-bulgaria-president-rumen-radev, (Date of Accession: 15.11.2021).

3 The Revival Party, which entered the National Assembly for the first time with this election, won 13 seats with 5 percent of the vote, and the Democratic Bulgarian Party won 17 seats with 6 percent of the vote.

Gözde KILIÇ YAŞIN
Gözde KILIÇ YAŞIN
Gözde Kılıç Yaşın, 1998'de Ankara Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi'nden mezun oldu. Yüksek lisans ve Doktora çalışmalarını aynı üniversitede Genel Kamu Hukuku alanında gerçekleştirdi. Uluslararası hukuk, soykırım suçu, savaş suçları, uluslararası göç, iltica, Ortodoks dünyası özelinde teostrateji, terör, su sorunları, enerji kaynakları ve enerji nakil hatları alanlarında çalışmakta; Balkan ülkeleri, Kıbrıs, Doğu Akdeniz özelinde siyasi, ticari, hukuki ve toplumsal gelişmeleri takip ederek politik öngörüler ışığında gelecek tasarımı çalışmaları gerçekleştirmektedir.