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If elections were held now, only three forces would elect MEPs

Combo picture of BSP leader Kornelia Ninova and GERB leader Boyko Borissov. []

If elections were held now, only three Bulgarian political forces would be able to be represented in the European parliament, according to polling agency Exacta, which released its findings on 20 December. Georgi Gotev has the story.

The ruling GERB party of PM Boyko Borissov would get 23.5%, followed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) at 20.8%. The third force would be the mostly ethnic Turkish Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS), with 5.1%.

GERB (Citizens for a Democratic Development of Bulgaria) is a populist force built around the personality of Boyko Borissov, affiliated to the centre-right EPP political family. The Bulgarian Socialist Party inherited the electorate from the former Bulgarian Communist Party, and is affiliated to the Party of European Socialists, led by Sergey Stanishev, a former BSP leader. DPS is affiliated to the liberal ALDE political family. All the three forces are pro-EU.

If this tendency is preserved until the European elections, this means that all Bulgarian MEPs could be from the pro-EU mainstream: EPP, S&D and ALDE.

According to the Exacta poll, the junior coalition party in the present government of Boyko Borissov, the United Patriots, would be the fourth force with 3.8%, and the extra-parliamentarian force Democratic Bulgaria would be fifth with 2.5%. This means that these forces are not strong enough to be represented in national parliament, where the threshold is 4%, and it would be even harder for them to make it to the next European Parliament, because the threshold for European elections is traditionally higher than the 4% applying for national elections.

(Recent EU rules limit the threshold to a maximum of 5%. In the past, the threshold for the European elections in Bulgaria has been as high as 5.56%. The threshold for the 2019 European elections is yet to be fixed by the Bulgarian parliament.)

An opinion poll of 3 December, by Market Link agency, has revealed similar results to those of Exacta. Bulgarian polling agencies are generally reliable.

Comparison with previous results

If elections were held today, Borissov’s GERB party would receive 27.7% of the votes, according to Market Links. In comparison, at the March 2017 general elections, GERB received 32.65%, while at the 2014 European elections it obtained 30.4%, which resulted in 6 MEP seats out of a total of 17 for Bulgaria.

According to the same opinion poll, the main opposition force, BSP would receive 24.9% of the votes, if elections were held today. This compares to 27.19% at the 2017 general elections, and 18.94% at the European elections, which gave BSP 4 MEP seats.

If elections were held today, according to Market Links, the third force would be DPS, with 5.7% of the votes. At the 2017 general elections, DPS was the fourth force, narrowly preceded by the United Patriots. DPS obtained 8.99% while the United Patriots, consisting of three nationalist and far-right forces, got 9.07%. At the last European elections, DPS got 17.26%, resulting in 4 MEP seats.

Bulgaria has 17 MEPs in the 752-seat European Parliament and their number will not change following Brexit.

Unreliable junior partner

Borissov’s majority in parliament depends on its coalition with the United Patriots: Volen Siderov’s Ataka, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB) of Valeri Simeonov, and VMRO-BND, a political party who claims to be the successor to the historic Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization.

If elections were held today, 5.2% would vote for the United Patriots, according to Market Link. But the conflicts between the three forces in the United Patriots’ coalition make uncertain, to say the least, a hypothesis that they would run united for national or for the European elections.

The United Patriots did not exist as a coalition at the time of the 2014 European elections, although a political force of similar nature, including the now defunct party “Bulgaria without censorship” of Nikolay Barekov, secured two MEP seats, one for Barekov and the other one for Angel Dzhambazki, a politician from VMRO-BND.

The party of Vesselin Mareshki ‘Volya’,represented in the current Bulgarian parliament, is unlikely to pass the threshold in case of a new election. If elections are held today, it would secure 1.5%, according to Market Link, and 1% according to Exacta. Mareshki, sometimes called by the foreign press “the Bulgarian Donald Trump”, obtained 4.15% at the 2017 general elections.

Mareshki owns a chain of petrol stations and pharmacies and plays the anti-monopoly ticket, having succeeded to sell fuel and medicines at prices below the rest of the competition. Mareshki positions himself as oppositions, but in fact supports the Borissov government. Internationally, he is affiliated to the Europe of Nations and Freedom group of Marine Le Pen.

A new player?

According to Market Link, the ‘Democratic Bulgaria’ union, a centre-right force which was unable to cross the threshold to enter the National Assembly in 2017 (having obtained 1.9%), is credited 4.6%, if elections were held today (Exacta credits it lower, at 2.5%). ‘Democratic Bulgaria’ is now in coalition with the Greens and DSB (Movement for Strong Bulgaria), a centre-right force created in 2004 by former PM Ivan Kostov (1997-2001).

In both opinion polls cited, the number of those who say they will not vote is over 30%. The turnout in the 2014 European elections in Bulgaria was of 35.84%.

‘The end of an era’

Andrei Raychev, a guru commentator of Bulgarian politics, said on 25 December that the European elections will play the role of early elections, as they will show if Borissov’s government has the potential to govern until the end of its mandate in 2021, or not.

But in both cases, he said that the May elections marked “the end of an era” in which Borissov had been the leading figure in Bulgarian politics. The many scandals that unfolded during the last year have put Borissov’s GERB party on the defensive, an uncomfortable role for the force having led during more than a decade, he said.

GERB can secure a full mandate only if they categorically win the European elections, Raychev said.

Raychev said the divisions between the Patriots would evolve further. He reminded that their unity eroded one year and a half ago, when they took opposite positions vis-s-vis Russia (Siderov’s Ataka strongly pro-Russian, Simeonov’s NFSB strongly against). “They are together for the time being, the questions is – until when”, he said.

Regarding the possible emergence of a new political project Raychev mentioned Slavi Trifonov, a showman running a daily late-night TV program, who may decide to run on an anti-system platform. But he added that if Trifonov doesn’t run for the European elections, it would be his last chance to join politics.

For several years now Trifonov has been seen as a possible catalyst for attracting the votes of disappointed voters, and of those who usually shun elections. His previous hesitations to enter politics suggest that if he doesn’t make his move now, he probably never will.

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