SOFIA: Bulgarians voted on Sunday in a sixth parliamentary election in three years, with little expectation that the poll will put an end to political instability in the Balkan EU member.

As support for a reformist coalition has plunged, former prime minister Boyko Borisov’s conservative GERB party looks set to remain the main political player in the EU’s poorest member. But GERB is likely to continue to struggle to find partners to govern after massive anti-corruption protests in 2020 ended Borisov’s almost-decade-long rule.

Analysts see high chances for the country’s worst political instability since the end of communism to endure, with yet another snap election in the autumn. This threatens to further delay reforms necessary to unlock EU funding and integrate fully into the Schengen area of free movement — and to frustrate voters further.

“We are weary of elections, and we want some stability and some prosperity for the country,” Margarita Semerdzhieva, a 72-year-old pensioner, said.

‘Return to stability’

The vote is being held alongside EU elections, where similar results are anticipated with reformists having lost significant ground. “I voted so that Bulgaria will return to stability, and that its voice is heard,” Bori­sov, 64, said after casting his ballot.

The former firefighter and bodyguard has long sought to portray an image of a “strong leader”, which 49 per cent of Bulgarians questioned in a recent study by the Open Society Institute said they prefer.

Polling stations opened at 7am and will close at 8pm with low turnout expected amid voter apathy. Exit polls will be given just after the stations close. Opinion polls on the day before the ballot showed GERB well ahead, with about 25per cent of the vote.

Voters are expected to punish Borisov’s partners in the outgoing government, the liberal reformist PP-DB, for having agreed to work with GERB after accusing Borisov’s past governments of corruption.

The two former rivals agreed to govern on a common pro-EU platform of ensuring Bulgaria — traditionally close to Russia — supports Kyiv’s fight against Moscow’s invasion. But the fragile partnership tumbled in April after just nine months in power after the parties failed to agree on key judiciary and other reforms.

PP-DB are now tipped to garner about 15 percent of the votes, 10 percentage points less than their result in April last year. “Bulgaria is at a crossroad,” PP co-president Kiril Petkov, who governed Bulgaria from late 2021 to 2022, said after casting his ballot, warning of forces influencing the country “from the shadows” to derail any reform drive.

Russian disinformation

A partner for GERB could be the Turkish minority MRF party led by Delyan Peevski, a 43-year-old lawmaker and former businessman who is sanctioned by the United States and Britain for corruption. The party has support of around 15pc, according to polls ahead of the election day.

“People today vote for a new beginning. It is time that we form a stable government,” Peevski said in a video distributed by his party. But analysts believe having the party formally in the cabinet risks provoking protests and could tarnish the country’s image.

On the other hand, a tacit behind-the-scenes partnership between GERB and MRF already dates back years, according to analysts.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2024

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