Analysis

Bulgarian elections: the main contenders

In the run-up to parliamentary elections on 12 May, Nikolay Manov examines the major political actors in the country and suggests two potential coalitions that may emerge following the poll.

 The former governing party – Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) is a centre-right formation based on the principles of freedom, responsibility and prosperity. It is a member of European People’s Party. It came into power on the wave of popular discontent with the ‘Triple Coalition’ (BSP- NMSS-MRF) and many people hoped that its policies could lead to a positive change in Bulgaria. Among its success stories are the unblocking of EU funding, the construction of infrastructure and the provision of social welfare such as schools and kindergartens. However, one of the main arguments of its opponents is that GERB was trying to impose authoritarian style of government through the personality of Borisov. Moreover, a recent scandal involving the bugging of state officials. Doubts about the competencies of GERB members are likely to lose voters.

The main opposition party is the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). It is a successor of the Bulgarian Communist Party and it is one of the few parties in Eastern Europe that managed to maintain a strong position in the transition period. The government of the BSP is associated with the political crisis of 1996-1997, remembered for empty shops and hyper inflation. The BSP came into power once more in 2005  as a part of a coalition, but the Cabinet which was formed was associated with high levels of corruption, redistribution of ‘state portions of financing’ by the MRF and suspension of several EU funds. The BPS enjoys a stable electorate among the elderly as it is related to nostalgia for the past, but the party lacks appeal among those aged 18-25.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) is often referred as the ‘Turkish’ party as it draws its support predominantly from the mixed regions despite the party’s several attempts to appeal to a broader electorate. It seeks economic integration of minorities rather than succession. It has been in power twice (2001, 2005) as a coalition partner and it is associated with ‘electoral tourism’ of ethnic Turks with Bulgarian citizenship who travel to vote in Bulgaria. A (mock) assassination attempt on Ahmed Dogan took place in January 2013 and it remains to be seen what effect that has had on the MRF support.

Ataka (Attack) is often labelled ‘fascist’, ‘anti-humane’ and ‘racist’ by its opponents. The party started from a TV commentary show on a private channel and entered the Parliament in 2005. Its radical policies are a combination of right- and left-wing statements and there is not a clear vision what it would do if it enters the executive. So far it has never governed, but it has made several attempts to disturb the ‘Bulgarian ethnic’ model. Its supporters are usually those who have lost from the transition or those who cast protest votes.

As there is ongoing rivalry between GERB and BSP as well as MRF and Ataka, there are two potential coalitions – GERB-Ataka or BSP-MRF. With none of the parties appealing to the median voter, coalition appears to be the most possible outcome of the vote on 12 May, but the question is ‘How long would such a coalition last when the parties entering the Parliament are not close on the ideological spectrum?’

Further reading:

Spirova, Maria “The Bulgarian Socialist Party: The Long Road to Europe” Communist and Post-Communist Studies Vol.41 (2008)

Stefanova, Boyka “Between ethnopolitics and liberal centrism: the Movement for Rights and Freedoms in the mainstream of Bulgarian party politics” Nationalities Papers Vol.40, No.5 (2012)

Ghodsee, Kristen “Left Wing, Right Wing, Everything: Xenophobia, Neo-totalitarianism, and Populist Politics in Bulgaria” Problems of Post-Communism Vol.55, No.3 (2008)

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One thought on “Bulgarian elections: the main contenders

  1. Pingback: The shifting shape of the Bulgarian right | Vostok Cable

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