Bulgaria scheduled Parliamentary elections for May 2013 when the government, led by Boiko Borisov of the center-right GERB party, resigned in February after widespread protests regarding economic issues in what is one of the EU’s poorest nations
The GERB party narrowly won first place in the May elections but was not able to form a majority coalition in Parliament
Boiko Borisov issued a request for an invalidation of the election and an eventual revote with the Bulgarian Constitutional Court but was denied
A coalition was eventually formed between the BSP and MRF, and despite the coalition’s lack of an outright majority, a nonpartisan Prime Minister, Plamen Oresharski, was narrowly approved by Parliament with the nationalist Ataka Party abstaining from the vote
Bulgaria held Parliamentary elections on May 12, 2013 after the Prime Minister, Boiko Borisov, and his center-right government resigned the previous February. The resignation of Borisov and his government was a result of massive protests throughout Bulgaria, one of the poorest European nations. The nature of the protests was largely economic, not political, with people extremely unhappy about austerity measures, low salaries and high prices, particularly electricity prices which have become devastatingly high as a result of monopolies in the industry. However, many of the protesters included government corruption among their complaints.
In the weeks leading up to the election, polls indicated Borisov’s GERB party as the expected winner of the election, but by only a slim margin over the socialist party (BSP). The actual election results mirrored these predictions, with GERB winning 30.7 percent of the vote and the BSP winning 27.1 percent. The only other parties to achieve the 4 percent parliamentary threshold were the nationalist Ataka party and the MRF, a Turkish minority party. These parties won 7.3 percent and 11.3 percent of the vote, respectively.
Voter turnout in this election was the lowest since the fall of communism and indicates widespread disillusionment with politics in the country. The election was characterized by voter apathy and by allegations of voter fraud and corruption. Despite the more than 250 international monitors sent to Bulgaria to monitor the election, the Bulgarian Interior Minister was involved in a wiretapping scandal during the campaign period and 350,000 extra ballots were found in a warehouse right before the election. Prosecutors investigated seventeen allegations of vote buying after the election. Once the results were announced, Bulgarian citizens returned to the streets in protest, clashing with police and chanting ‘mafia’ at politicians and in front of government buildings.
The commentary on the Bulgarian elections has been pessimistic. Bloomberg suggested that the only change in Bulgarian governance since the government’s resignation in February was increased apathy and disillusionment. An article in the Sofia Globe refers to the election as “the elections that everybody lost”.
Borisov indicated soon after the results were announced and the difficulty of creating a coalition exposed that he would attempt to seek an invalidation of the election and a revote on the basis of fraud committed during the campaign and on election day. The Parliament was scheduled to reconvene on May 21, 2013 despite doubts about its functionality. The same week, Boiko Borisov officially filed a request with the Bulgarian constitutional court to void the results of the election. President Rosen Plevneliev, however, protested this idea saying that another vote would destabilize and diminish public confidence in the government, creating more problems within Bulgaria and likely discouraging investors. He also indicated that any fraud committed during the electoral process was not widespread enough to have affected the results. International monitors appear to agree, more or less, with this claim.
A close look at the prospects for the new government’s stability indicated that critics concerned about Bulgaria’s capacity to function may be correct. Neither the GERB party nor the Socialist party was expected to form a full parliamentary majority. In the 240-seat Parliament, the GERB party won 97 seats and the BSP won 84 seats. The Ataka and MRF parties won 23 and 36 seats, respectively, but were unlikely coalition partners due to Ataka’s anti-gypsy and anti-Turkish platform. Furthermore, Ataka, despite its history as an ally of the GERB party, announced that it would not form a coalition with Borisov’s party this year.
The resulting coalition, formed well after the May 12th election, was between the BSP and MRF but does not constitute a parliamentary majority. The combined number of seats allotted to the BSP and MRF parties is only 120, exactly half of the seats in Parliament. Nonetheless, on May 29th the Bulgarian Parliament narrowly managed to establish a technocratic government led by nonpartisan former Finance Minister, Plamen Oresharski. Oresharski is famous for his establishment of a flat tax and all sides consider him a generally competent politician, especially in the economic sense. His approval was achieved as a result of the Ataka party’s abstention from the parliamentary vote to approve him as Prime Minister.
Bulgaria’s new Deputy Prime Minister, Zinaida Zlatanova, previously acted as head of the European Commission’s representation in Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia. This appointment is widely considered to be a plea for more support from Brussels and the EU in combating economic woes in Bulgaria. Bulgaria has been criticized extensively by the EU and the rest of the international community, particularly for its high levels of corruption and widespread perceptions of governmental incompetence within the country.
Despite the successful approval of a seemingly competent Prime Minister, it is unclear exactly what the future will hold for Bulgarian politics. Concerns that what has been described as a “hotchpotch of a cabinet” will be unworkable due to disparate interests in parliament remain, and disillusionment is becoming increasingly widespread.