Bulgarian showman launches "casting call" for new political party

Bulgarian showman launches
Slavi hosts Serbian singer Indira Radic.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia September 25, 2017

Slavi Trifonov, the anchorman of the popular TV show “Slavi’s Show”, launched a “casting call” for politicians on September 25, officially starting his long-anticipated political party.

Political outsiders have a history of grabbing popular support in Bulgaria, but the stars of most of the country’s populist leaders have waned just as quickly. The exception is the country’s current Prime Minister, Boyko Borissov, and his centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB). However, the party, which is in its third term in power, is now part of the political establishment — leaving a gap for a new populist leader that some suspect could be filled by Trifonov. 

Trifonov, who has blurred the boundaries between showbiz and politics since the fall of communism when his show “Cuckoo” lampooned Bulgaria’s leaders, has long been expected to step into the political arena. 

The showman, actor, singer, and player of several musical instruments is already a household name in Bulgaria, where he hosts “Slavi's Show”, an evening talk show aired every weekday. The show is broadcast by the TV channel bTV, part of media and entertainment corporation Central European Media Enterprises (CME).

The showman finally indicated he could set up his own political party in mid-September, when he posted a tweet apparently addressed to politicians saying “The vacation is over. Start worrying”. 

In looking for political followers, Trifonov took a very similar approach to when seeking participants for various reality shows in the past. “If you are a good professional in your area of expertise, if you are educated and really want to change the country, I am expecting you,” said Trifonov in a tweet.

“Send us detailed information about yourself and your contact email,” he added in a post on Facebook addressed to all Bulgarians living in the country and abroad. The same invitation was sent to all local media.

Many of those who saw the invitation didn't take it seriously and posted jokes below the tweet. Analysts have also criticised Trifonov, pointing out that apart from talking about corrupt politicians in general and demanding reforms to the electoral system, he has never presented any policies or expressed any views on Bulgaria’s development. He also has not provided any information on how he plans to finance his future political party.

Nonetheless, if he does go ahead and form a party, Trifonov could gather support from the large number of Bulgarians who tend to seek a strong leader to follow and have been disappointed in the past. The same recipe as that offered by Trifonov has been used by Borissov and by Simeon Borisov Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Bulgaria’s last tsar before the communist era, who served as prime minister between 2001 and 2005. Now that Borissov’s appeal as a man of the people seems to be fading away, some of his followers are looking around for a new leader with similar qualities. 

In many ways Trifonov fits the bill. His popularity soared in 1997, when Bulgaria faced mass protests against the Socialist government led by Zhan Videnov. During the so-called “Videnov’s winter” many angry and hungry people took to the streets, demanding a change. On January 10, 1997 a crowd attacked the parliament and set parts of it on fire. In the following weeks, Trifonov and his colleagues from "Cuckoo" became the faces of the protest that led to new elections and the establishment of a currency board.

More recently, Trifonov tested the waters for a new political debut with his campaign for electoral reform. He initiated a referendum on electoral reform in 2014, but despite the campaign organised by his show, the turnout at the referendum, which took place in 2016, fell just short of the threshold to make the results binding. 

The support for all three of the proposals made in the referendum was strong, with the shares of positive answers being 71.95%, 61.89% and 72.16% respectively. However, the number of votes missed the threshold by around 12,000.

Despite this, he continued to push for the parliament to consider making the changes, and slammed MPs in June when they rejected a proposed switch to a pure majority electoral system, accusing them of effectively staging a coup by failing to respect the will of the people.