Will Broad Consensus Stand a Chance after Bulgaria's Early Election?
Weeks before Bulgaria's outgoing cabinet leaves office, the prospect of forging political consensus after the early parliamentary election due this spring leaves analysts divided.
In November, Boyko Borisov, the head of Bulgaria's biggest party GERB, resigned as Prime Minister, citing the heavy defeat of his candidate in the presidential election. GERB's nominee lost to Rumen Radev, who was backed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), with socialists having been until then in a years-long internal and electoral crisis.
Some, like Andrey Raychev, co-founder of Gallup International Bulgaria, believe the forthcoming elections – which will be called after Radev takes over as President and dissolves Parliament at the end of January – may bring a "grand coalition" to the executive for the first time in more than two decades, with conservatives and socialists shaking hands.
“If GERB is No 1 [the party with the biggest share of votes], and the BSP is No 2, this is almost certain. If it is the other way around, given the mentality of our Prime Minister, it is not very certain,” he has told the Bulgarian National Radio.
GERB, moreover, is “a classical centrist party” rather than a right-wing one as it has sought to portray itself for years. It is a “successor to the NDSV” and, being centrist, “has the feature of being able to make coalitions both to the left and to the right without losing supporters, without violating its principles,” Raychev has added, in a reference to the party of Bulgaria's last King Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha which swept to power in 2001.
The emergence of several other players has also ushered in some uncertainty. For example, the BSP's head Korneliya Ninova, elected Chairman in April, has changed the party's tactics used for years, portraying socialists as the defender of “working people”, rather than of the poor, Raychev says. Its rhetoric, in his words, is now left-wing in style but “centrist in content”, placing emphasis on the importance of “rules and production”. The nationalist coalition Patriotic Front, which stands out as an “ideological” alliance with its anti-migrant and anti-Turkish sentiment, and the uncertainty over whether TV talkshow host Slavi Trifonov will set up a party to run in the parliamentary election, will pose additional challenges to predict the elections' outcome.
Political scientist Strahil Deliyski, in a radio discussion with Raychev, has noted that Borisov stands out as a “pillar of meaning” in Bulgarian politics. “Regardless of whether he is good or bad... now that he is exiting power, the tidyness of Bulgaria's political world begins falling apart... He is capable of making a simple narrative, understandable to voters, out of the many pieces of Bulgaria's political world.”
“Using one logic, he can clean around with a shovel, while using another he can talk with Ms [Angela] Merkel.”
“But his role is quite problematic as regards the subjection of Bulgaria's political process to democratic standards,” he has noted. “Borisov is the factor hindering Bulgaria's political process.”
Economist Prof Boyan Durankev, on the other hand, speaks of a shakeup of Bulgaria's political life that may be seen as Radev takes over as President in January.
"By definition he will be independent from GERB, and [he made a] promise [to be] independent from the BSP."
"As a person of dialogue with balancing functions, he will certainly employ many more flight directions other than the traditional "left-right", "east-west", "north-south", Durankev says in an article published by Standart newspaper, in an apparent reference to the fact Radev was the Commander of the Bulgarian Air Force before running in the election.
On the other hand, GERB should not be discarded at all as a political player, having retained its party structures and still wielding influence among its "clientelle" and keeping its capability of standing up for party positions, he argues.
The BSP meanwhile is on a course to a "pragmatic left turn" and shaking off the dependence on "satellite parties" within the electoral coalition it runs with.
But Ninova is facing a Herculean task of "possessing Harry Potter's magic wand" to making the "millions of people hurt by the [democratic] transition believe her," he adds.
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