the danger hanging over Bulgaria – DW – 6.11.2023

the danger hanging over Bulgaria – DW – 6.11.2023
the danger hanging over Bulgaria – DW – 6.11.2023

Bulgarian democracy, slapped by voter apathy, shrunk to a handful of ballots. The low turnout in the runoff in the local elections showed that in the week after the first round, the parties did not motivate more citizens to vote. This disgust and alienation, but also latent anger towards the political, hidden behind the high percentage of “I do not support anyone” – about 5%, drowns out the fanfare for the winners.

In the short term, the weak civic activism does not work in favor of the rulers to win them an ally and higher support for reforms and deep transformation of Bulgaria. The results will test the resilience of the governing union this week, but they are unlikely to cause its collapse. On the one hand, the larger partner GERB has twice as many municipal councilors as PP-DB, but PP-DB made a breakthrough, winning mayors in several large regional centers besides Sofia – Varna, Pazardzhik, Blagoevgrad.

Local government is a pillar of the central government and, unlike it, has a guaranteed 4-year mandate. Municipal councils cannot be overthrown by a vote of no confidence or the withdrawal of one of the allies. Whatever happens, four years of their rule is assured.

And the end result of the current local elections are some muted victories. GERB are first not because they won, but because they had a monopoly in local government, already limited. PP-DB achieved difficult victories. The BSP and DPS increased their support both in terms of the number of mayors and municipal councilors, which is a victory for the socialists given the steady decline in influence for years. And “There is such a people” (ITN) for the first time won a regional city in Bulgaria – mayor in Lovech, with the support of the “Bulgarian Rise” party, created by a former staff member of the president. “Vazrazhdane” lagged behind the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which won mayors in Dupnitsa, again in Ruse and Shumen, Razgrad, Silistra.

The intrigue in Sofia

In Sofia – benchmark for the balance in the ruling non-coalition – the difference of less than 5,000 votes in favor of Vasil Terziev, candidate of PP-DB, “Save Sofia” and “Team for Sofia”, and Vanya Grigorova, behind whom the cohort lined up from the BSP, two back-ups, “Ataka” and more Russophiles from a bunch of formations, remained until the end of the census. With almost one hundred percent processed protocols, the difference is about one and a half percent – 48.28% versus 46.76%. Compared to the first round, Grigorova managed to mobilize several tens of thousands more votes. In Terziev’s headquarters, they were so surprised that the trade unionist was against them, and not the GERB-SDS nominee and candidate of the current status quo, Anton Hekimyan, that they never found the right “narrative”.

It is hardly possible to rely on the appeals of GERB leader Boyko Borisov, who changed the messages to his voters like a weather vane. The results showed that GERB sympathizers chose Vanya Grigorova and confirmed the known fact that such a vote cannot be cast.

Although there is no sign of equality between parliamentary and local elections, let us recall that in the vote for parliament seven months earlier PP-DB received 192,343 votes in Sofia, and now the future mayor Vasil Terziev received about 15,000 votes less . This time, slightly more people voted in Sofia with “I do not support anyone” – 17,778 or nearly 5% of the voters.

Difficult local “assemblages”

But a victory in the key capital, where PP-DB also won 19 regional mayors, is not equivalent to easy management and change of the model imposed for 18 years. In the Metropolitan Municipal Council (SOC), no formation has a majority of 31 municipal councilors. PP-DB has 23, GERB-SDS – 14, nine are for BSP, eight for “Vazrazhdane”, three each for KOD and ITN and one councilor for VMRO.

The results show that theoretically there is a chance to reproduce the assembly at the Sofia level – but also the floating majorities, a patent of GERB. How it will (mutually) act will become clear very soon during two key votes – for the election of the chairman of the SOS, which is on a secret ballot according to the current regulations, and for the new structure of the Metropolitan Municipality, which the new mayor must present. The challenge for Terziev and his team will be to offer enough prepared personnel to replace part of the administration of the Metropolitan Municipality. Otherwise, it can turn out to be a back wheel for any changes, and even sabotage them.

In almost all municipal councils, which were elected in the first round with a pile of paper and over 500,000 invalid ballots, the situation is like in SOS – there are no majorities. The practice in Bulgaria has so far shown that these are formed on the basis of local business interests and around specific projects. An example of this is Haskovo, where the well-functioning assembly between GERB and DPS in the municipal council also guarantees the victory of the previous mayor and candidate of GERB in the runoff.

“A star is born…”

With this title from an American film, political scientists characterized the appearance of Vanya Grigorova and her strong result in Sofia. Both for Vasil Terziev and for her, the work in the administration of Sofia – because she will be an adviser, may be a corridor for new political goals. However, it is not clear to what extent it has the potential to be a start for a new left, since the backbone of its support is the old left and its business circles – the BSP, the Left and generally politicians remembered for the national disaster in 1996-1997 and pro-Kremlin sympathies.

Grigorova has not declared any political ambitions, and the distance between her and BSP leader Kornelia Ninova is visible to the naked eye. As long as the trade unionist is in SOS, the two will maintain a cold peace. On the election night, however, political scientists commented that the fermentation of the European left is rather expected from PP-DB (they are less and less recognized as right), and not from the forces behind Grigorova and herself.

A velvet coup

As evident in last night’s statements of GERB leader Boyko Borisov, the internal pressure in the coalition is intensifying in the context of the upcoming budget for 2024 and the subsequent rotation in March related to the evaluation of the activities of the ministers in the government. Added to this are the constitutional changes scheduled for a vote in December and the final decision on Schengen, which, if negative, will increase the pressure on the government of Academician Nikolay Denkov from GERB and DPS. However, for Boyko Borisov, it is profitable for unpopular decisions and the responsibility for them to be taken precisely by the office of the PP-DB. After all, with the deputies of GERB, DPS, and why not with other formations, it can always block those that hinder the businesses that support it – for example, the proposal of the Ministry of Finance to drop the reduced to 9% VAT rate for restaurateurs. But it is not clear what will happen with the cabinet’s request to replace the head of DANS.

On the other hand, “Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria” are under pressure. As the political scientist Ognyan Minchev commented on BNT, the pressure on GERB and Boyko Borisov in the current political situation is very high when they try to relegitimize themselves, and their political behavior is watched very carefully “by everyone”.

In two days Borisov will ask the party to decide whether to remain in the assembly. Such demonstrations of pehlivanluk are already familiar – no wonder that Delyan Peevski, the first co-chairman of the DPS parliamentary group in the party’s political history, was included in them. The missing link – a coalition agreement between GERB and DPS – is still missing. And the leader of GERB noted yesterday the votes of “Vazrazhdane”, the third political force in Varna, given for the PP-DB candidate and future mayor Blagomir Kotsev. There is no way the lead (of Ivan Portnih, the candidate of GERB, BA) will melt away without a paid vote from the Mutras and the Varna groups, commented Borisov from Plovdiv. But he never explained his strange choices for unpopular candidates – Hekimyan in Sofia and Portnih for Varna, who accumulated significant negatives in his two mandates so far.

If voter apathy continues, it will reset democracy.

This comment expresses the personal opinion of the author and may not coincide with the positions of the Bulgarian editorial office and DV as a whole.

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“I wanted to show everyone how beautiful Sofia is”

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