By Georgi Gotev
In just one month from now, after the 26 May European elections in Bulgaria, it will be possible to compare this forecast with the actual results. This “educated guess” is based on the published lists by the major political players, on the latest opinion polls, and the possibility for the preferential vote to re-arrange some of the lists, by pushing some candidates higher.
BSP and GERB will have very close results. Opinion polls show that the centre-right party GERB of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov GERB (EPP-affiliated) and its arch-rival the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), PES-affiliated, are neck-and neck. This is why this forecast projects six MEPs from each force, with the caveat that the party winning the elections would have a seventh one.
A conservative GERB list, with many ‘old’ MEPs
On the side of GERB, the evaluation is easier. From the 17 candidates as announced on 31 March the current Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, as well as the current MEPs Andrey Novakov, Eva Maydell, Asim Ademov will be elected, as well as the candidate of the coalition ally SDS Aleksandar Yordanov, the former minister, responsible for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU Liliana Pavlova. Given that Gabriel will be most likely the Bulgarian candidate for EU Commissioner, the current MEP Emil Radev is also likely to join the next European Parliament.
(However, if GERB loses the European elections, early elections are very likely. In case BSP forms a government before countries are asked to nominate a commissioner, this force would push for its own candidate for Commissioner, and Gabriel would keep her MEP seat.)
Preferential vote could play a role in making only minor changes in the GERB list. Conversely, the BSP list is likely to be seriously re-shuffled, for a number of motivations we will try to explain.
Many new names in BSP list
On 14 April BSP published its list of 17 candidates, led by journalist Elena Yoncheva, possibly the only one whose place in the list will not change following the vote. Current MP Petar Vitanov (N.2 in the list) and Tzvetelina Penkova, a former member of the London-based Millennium Club Bulgaria (N. 3 in the list), are likely to go down as a result of the preferential vote. The current N. 4 is Ivo Hristov, a leftist intellectual, who was until days the chief of cabinet of the President Rumen Radev. Hristov has his own fans, but it is unclear if they could push him higher in the list – possibly they could help him retain his eligible ranking.
Fifth is Sergei Stanishev, whom the leader of BSP Kornelia Ninova wanted out of the list, because of ideological differences.
It is likely that Stanishev would obtain a significant number of preferential votes, although not exactly from his fans. Ninova has many enemies in BSP (especially the so-called old guard), and many of them support Stanishev just to upset her. In any case, it is more likely that Stanishev would climb in the list, rather than retrocede.
There is one candidate in the BSP list with a significant potential to climb higher. Velizar Enchev, a journalist and former diplomat and officer from the Bulgarian intelligence services, is ranked 10th, but could end up being elected. One of the reasons is that Enchev runs a political talk show on the television channel of the BSP and has many fans, especially among the elderly electorate. He has been positioning himself as an advocate for more decent pensions for of the retired people, and if his fans don’t mess up filling the preference, he could be propelled high in the list.
Experience shows that in Bulgaria some 30,000 preferential votes can propel a candidate from the bottom to the top of the list. Current MEP Momchil Nekov was elected with preferential vote not because of his popularity (actually, he was completely unknown to the public in 2014), but because his rank in the BSP list (15) coincided with the number of BSP among the other parties (15). Many BSP voters ticked both boxes, and Nekov came first, ahead of the leader of the list at that time, Stanishev.
A rogue DPS candidate
The third political force which will undoubtedly elect MEPs is the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS), representing ethnic Turks, ALDE-affiliated. It can be safely forecast that DPS will have 2 or 3 MEPs. The top candidate of the list, Mustafa Karadaya, leader of DPs, is unlikely to take his MEP seat. The second is the shady media magnate Delyan Peevski, who is an MP from DPS, but has very rarely been to the National Assembly. Peevski was a candidate in the previous European elections, but under pressure from ALDE, he withdrew to the profit of Iskra Mihailova. Next on the list are Ilhan Kyuchyuk, Iskra Mihaylova (both current MEPs), and Atidge Ali-Veli, a current government official responsible for agricultural programs.
The DPS electorate is instructed not to use the preferential vote, therefore it is unlikely that surprises would occur.
It is not certain if other forces will be able to pass the 5.8% threshold to elect MEPs. The so-called “United Patriots”, the junior coalition member in Borissov’s government, are so divided, that they are unlikely to have a single MEP elected. Some opinion polls suggest that one of the three forces, VMRO, could end up electing the leader of its list, and in this case, this would be the current MEP Angel Dzhambazki (who until now sits with the ECR group).
There is a force unlikely to pass the threshold if elections are held now, but it is investing heavily in advertising: the party Volya of businessman Vesselin Mareshki. If Mareshki’s budget would allow such a stunt, he could join his political ally Marine Le Pen in the next European Parliament. Before the start of the election campaign, television is overflowing with advertisement for Volya and Mareshki.
But if Mareshki is successful, this could be at the detriment of VMRO, because the two forces are fishing for the same electorate. More likely, not a single candidate from the far-right, anti-EU and nationalist family will be elected.
The coalition “Democratic Bulgaria”, representing the so-called “urban” centre-right (less populist than GERB and closer to traditional EPP values), could possibly elect one MEP, if they are very successful with their campaign. Their list is led by Radan Kanev, but if elected, he is likely to withdraw to the profit of the next one in the list. Who will come second is different to say, because the electorate of this force is likely to use the preferential vote and re-shuffle the list.
All things having been said, we place our bets in the following list, in which not a single nationalist or far-right candidate appears:
Mariya Gabriel (GERB). She may leave if nominated for Commissioner.
Angrey Kovachev (GERB)
Andrey Novakov (GERB)
Eva Maydell (GERB)
Asim Ademov (GERB)
Aleksandar Yordanov (SDS, on the GERB list)
Liliana Pavlova (GERB) She may become an MEP if Mariya Gabriel leaves for the Commission.
Elena Yoncheva (BSP)
Sergei Stanishev (BSP)
Ivo Hristov (BSP)
Petar Vitanov (BSP)
Velizar Enchev (BSP)
Denitsa Slateva (BSP)
Delyan Peevski (DPS)
Ilhan Kyuchyuk (DPS)
Iska Mihaylova (DPS)
Radan Kanev (Democratic Bulgaria)