Exit polls indicate Bulgaria's centre-right ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party will win the October 25 local elections by a substantial margin, strengthening its political dominance. GERB mayors are expected to be elected in Sofia and nine other major cities in the first round of voting, but the final results are not yet in and there are reports of chaotic scenes at the main vote counting centre in Sofia.
The local election results are likely to strengthen the influence and self-confidence of Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boiko Borisov. While the minority government comprising Borissov’s GERB and the Reformist Block is stable, it will have to rely on support from opposition parties to pass much needed reforms, especially those concerning the judiciary and fighting corruption.
The planned reforms face strong opposition, as many politicians benefit from the status quo and do not want changes to be made. Although the reforms are quite popular with the Bulgarian public and are backed by the EU, they will be hard to push through the parliament.
"Bulgaria has now joined the countries in Southeast Europe with one big hegemonic party and several smaller parties," sociologist Ognyan Minchev said on Nova TV show after voting had been completed. "This a populist type of hegemonic party that will rule without having to care much about the others in the political spectrum."
In the first round of the vote, GERB candidates are set to win the mayoral elections in the capital of Sofia, as well as in nine out of a total of 28 other regional administrative centres, according to exit polls. There were two more regional centre cities where mayors are expected to be elected in the first round – Kardzhali, where the candidate of the predominantly ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) is expected to retain his post for a fourth four-year term and Kyustendil, where a local coalition is in the lead.
In other cities, voting will go to a second round, but GERB candidates are expected to take a number of other cities, including Plovdiv, Shumen, and Haskovo.
GERB also appears to have performed well in the municipal councilor elections, taking 31.5% of the votes, followed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (13.1%), the MRF (11.5%), the right-wing Reformist Bloc (8.9%) and the left-wing Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (4.1%), according to independent marketing and social research agency Alpha Research. Notably, GERB will also have a majority in Sofia’s municipal council. Voter turnout was 47%.
In parallel with the local elections, Bulgaria also held a referendum on introducing remote electronic voting. Around 70.6% of citizens who cast votes were in favour of the move. However, turnout at the referendum was slightly more than 35%, according to preliminary data, which is below the 48.7% required to make the referendum result binding. It is, however, above the 20% threshold that creates an obligation for the parliament to make a decision on the referendum question.
The need for reforms to Bulgaria’s electoral process was highlighted by the chaotic scenes reported at the main vote counting centre in Sofia, Arena Armeetz hall.
Problems tallying votes in the Bulgarian capital are a regular occurrence, as thousands of people from local electoral commissions take sacks of ballot papers to submit to the Central Electoral Commission. However, this year has been exceptionally bad.
Reportedly, there are still some 5,000 people in Arena Armeetz hall, the biggest sports hall in Sofia, the doors are closed, there is no food inside, and nobody is allowed to leave. bTV broadcast a window of the hall from outside, where people inside had written SOS. Photographs taken from inside the stadium by Anna Pelova, co-chairwoman of the Bulgarian Green Party, show thousands of people waiting in the stands.
Earlier rumours of a death inside the hall have been refuted, but seven people have been hospitalized and one woman is reported to have suffered a miscarriage. The Bulgarian government has asked the CEC to allow people to leave and bring in security guards to ensure the ballot papers are not tampered with.
On election day there was a massive denial-of-service (DoS) attack against the servers of several state institutions linked with the elections, including the central electoral commission, the ministries of interior and foreign affairs, and the civil registration administration. The attack came from 11 different locations abroad, including visible IP addresses from Vietnam, Turkey, and USA according sources quoted by Capital Daily. It is believed to have been orchestrated by opponents of the electronic voting system.
A number of irregularities have also been reported regarding the referendum, including claims of a deliberate attempt to keep turnout low to prevent voter numbers from crossing the threshold for the vote to be valid.