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The winners and losers of the European elections in Bulgaria

Borissov votes. [Facebook page of Boyko Borissov]

By Krassen Nikolov

The European elections in Bulgaria were a sort of vote of confidence for the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and his party GERB. The final results, just announced, are 31,07% for Boyko Borissov’s GERB, 24,26% for the opposition BSP, 16, 55% for the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS), 7, 36% for VMRO and 6,06% for Democratic Bulgaria. This translates into 7 MEPs from GERB, 5 for BSP, 3 for DPS and one each for VMRO and Democratic Bulgaria.

Despite the sociological predictions, there was no drama. The majority of Bulgarians chose stability in the face of the prospect of a new political crisis and early elections in the autumn. GERB won with a comfortable lead of 7% against its main rival BSP, which led to the resignation of BSP leader Kornelia Ninova on Tuesday (28 May). The Turkish minority party DPS is again a key factor in its role as a balancing player in Bulgarian politics. VMRO monopolizes the nationalist votes and the center-right pro-European coalition Democratic Bulgaria managed to survive. The observers were impressed by the low turnout – about 30%. The elections in Bulgaria were affected by the fact that many people decided to travel because of the long weekend instead of voting. This reduced the support for the parties to their hard cores.

The big winner Boyko Borissov

Two weeks before the elections, things did not look good for Boyko Borissov. The GERB party (EPP-affiliated) has suffered a lot from a series of scandals related with property: first the “apartment scandal”, then the “guesthouses scam”, which involves EU money. Borissov’s right hand Tsvetan Tsvetanov was temporarily out because of the “apartment scandal“. All polling agencies showed that BSP was on its way to win the elections. And that undoubtedly would have seriously shaken the government. Bad news from Germany has further darkened the mood of the Prime Minister. The Volkswagen Group had announced it is postponing its decision where to build the company’s new plant for the autumn. Borissov expected that the company would announce its 1.4 billion euro investment in Bulgaria and thus help him easily win the elections. The decision of the Germans was an alarm for Borissov. The next day, he began tirelessly to travel around the country with state-paid gasoline and meet people. The Prime Minister inspected construction sites, roads, opened factories. This show was broadcast live on his Facebook profile. Borissov had not made such tours since 2009 when he was trying to win his first parliamentary elections. His aim was to show that he, not Tsvetan Tsvetanov, was the irreplaceable person in GERB. And Borissov succeeded. The Bulgarians chose his political story on stability, highways and new factories instead of the BSP’s alternative to early elections.

The loser BSP

In mid-May BSP seemed like the winner of the European elections. But the party leader Kornelia Ninova made too many strategic mistakes that have turned the score. In February Ninova decided that the party would leave the parliament. Thus the party was deprived of the best way to get pre-election advertising free of charge and gain a good lead – by speaking in the National Assembly. As GERB spoke in an effort to compensate for the scandals, BSP was silent. The BSP leader managed to produce a huge scandal in her own party by removing the president of the Party of European Socialists Sergei Stanishev from the  leadership of European elections list. The National Council of BSP rebelled against Ninova and put Stanishev fifth in the party’s European Parliament election list. This divided the party at a wrong moment. For a year, Ninova imposed national-populist rhetoric in BSP. This line was abruptly abandoned during the election campaign. That gave the impression of inconsistency. The European theme was left behind. Throughout the whole campaign BSP insisted that early elections were needed. The Bulgarians apparently do not want early elections and Borissov managed to take advantage of this. Ninova resigned on Tuesday. BSP now faces the risk of an internal war that can lead to poor results in local elections.

DPS – the winner

The election result of more than 300,000 votes (when 2 million voted) reaffirmed the Turkish minority party DPS as an unbeatable factor in the Parliament. The more important thing about the party is that the division in it may be considered as overcome. The DOST Party, set up by DPS former leader Lyutvi Mestan, is marginalized and unable to influence politics. DPS can continue to play its role as an informal coalition partner of GERB and take part in the power as an éminence grise.

Winning nationalists

The nationalist VMRO party won 7.4% at the European elections by itself. This is the best election result ever for Krasimir Karakachanov and Angel Dzhambazki, the only MEP this force had in the ougoing European Parliament. VMRO is about to monopolize the space for nationalists since its competitors have completely failed. The campaign was extremely effective, and all VMRO candidates were very active. The messages of the nationalists were entirely focused on European issues, using  part of the anti-European propaganda arsenal – anti​-​gay and anti-Istanbul Convention talk, etc. Nevertheless VMRO is the most balanced nationalist party in Bulgaria. That attracts voters and makes VMRO an acceptable partner for GERB. So the party can reasonably expect even better results in the next parliamentary elections.

Loser nationalists

The Pro-Russian nationalist party “Ataka” led by Volen Siderov and the anti-Russian nationalist formation NFSB led by Valery Simeonov achieved weak results. Together, they have 40,000 votes, which is three times less than the last elections, on which the two parties participated by themselves. The result is not surprising because VMRO was the most active player on the nationalist scene.

The survivors – “Democratic Bulgaria”

Most analysts commented after the European elections that the big surprise of the vote was the result of the pro-European coalition Democratic Bulgaria. Sociological studies have shown that the formation has almost no chance of having an MEP because the electoral threshold of 5.88% is too high. The coalition achieved 6% – a score that is 1/3 higher than the forecast. This is far below the potential of the pro-European coalition. It is believed that right and liberal pro-European voters in Bulgaria are about 300,000-400,000 and with a good mobilization, the possible score of elections is over 10%. Scandals among the traditional right parties in recent years have made this goal seem impossible. The election result is not a huge success, but it makes the coalition stable and shows its voters that it is a real player in politics. If the “democrats” remain stable and manage to introduce new figures before the next elections, they can count on a higher score.

The Businessman who lost

Veselin Mareshki. Leader of the populist Volya party, used once again his unique campaign model – through his pharmacy and filling stations business. He carried out the entire campaign in his chain of gas stations and pharmacies, which were turned into party offices. His model showed the ugliest side of Bulgarian politics – he was attracting people by selling goods at lower prices. Some sociological studies were predicting that “Volya” (Will) can rely on the support of about 5% of the voters. The result was much lower – 3.6%, which also led to doubts about corrupting some of the sociological agencies. Finally, the pro-Russian patriot and businessman Mareshki (Marine Le Pen’s man in Bulgaria) failed. However, the result gives him hope to continue efforts for the parliamentary elections, where the 4% electoral threshold seems easier to reach.​

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