GERB candidate leads in Bulgarian presidential race but runoff very likely

GERB candidate leads in Bulgarian presidential race but runoff very likely
By bne IntelliNews November 4, 2016

Parliament speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, the presidential candidate of the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), is likely to win the first round of the presidential elections on November 6. However, she is not expected to gain enough votes to win outright, and recent polls indicate her main opponent, former air force commander General Rumen Radev, will have a slight edge in the second round. 

The main candidates have run generally lacklustre and negative campaigns that have done little to inspire the electorate to vote for them. The election is a must win for GERB, whose leader Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has said the government will resign if Tsacheva does not take the largest share of the vote in the first round. 

New polls by Gallup International Balkan and Mediana showed that support for Tsacheva is about 4pp higher than the support for the second most popular presidential candidate, Radev, who is backed by the biggest opposition party, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).

A fairly distant third is Krassimir Karakachanov, the presidential candidate of the nationalist Patriotic Front and the opposition nationalist party Ataka.

The two surveys agree on the ranking of the top eight presidential candidates. 

In the evening of November 3, another opinion poll was announced, conducted by Alpha Research. Its results are very similar to the ones of the two earlier surveys. The support for Tsacheva, Radev and Karakachanov was reported at 26.3%, 22.5% and 12.5% respectively.

Most likely there will be a runoff on November 13, and its result is very difficult to predict. Assuming Tsacheva and Radev go to a second round, Radev may win by 53% to 47%, Gallup said, but warned that these numbers are for a hypothetical scenario, and they do not reflect the developments that will take place after November 6. Mediana also sees a small advantage for Radev in a potential runoff.

The surveys by Gallup and Mediana were announced on November 3 and November 1 respectively. The Gallup national poll covered 820 respondents and was conducted in the period October 24 – 31. The Mediana survey covered 1,003 respondents and was carried out in the period October 26 – 31.

The close results of the two leading candidates suggest that there will be intensive negotiations between the two rounds of the presidential elections, with both GERB and the BSP trying to muster the support of the smaller players. According to Mediana experts, Tsacheva’s potential to win voters beyond the traditional electorate of her party is much smaller than Radev’s.

GERB currently rules in a coalition with the Reformist Bloc, which has nominated Traicho Traikov. The government is also supported by the Patriotic Front, which nominated Karakachanov, although the vice presidential candidate comes from the opposition Ataka.

On the other hand, Bulgaria’s political left has two more presidential candidates besides Radev – Ivaylo Kalfin and Tatyana Doncheva. Kalfin was nominated by the Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) party that left the government in May. A former lawmaker from BSP, Doncheva is now the leader of the party Dvizhenie 21.

The opposition predominantly ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) is more likely to back Radev, because the DPS is closer to the BSP, as the two parties used to be ruling coalition partners in the past. The DPS is demanding early parliamentary elections, which will be more likely if the opposition’s candidate wins the presidential elections.

On October 20, DPS decided to support the presidential candidacy of former Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski. Two opinion polls, conducted before this decision, had shown support for Oresharski at about or less than 1%.

On October 3, Borissov said that the government would resign immediately if Tsacheva did not win the first round of the presidential elections. Initially, it was not clear what scenario Borissov was talking about – of Tsacheva not winning the elections in the first round or of not winning the most votes in the first round. Subsequently, the government press office clarified that the prime minister meant the latter, bTV reported.

Although Tsacheva is currently leading the polls - at least for the first round - many Bulgarians feel very disappointed with her candidacy. A joke that Tsacheva can only win if she is called Tsetsa (after a popular Bulgarian folk singer) is circulating in Sofia.

Many local analysts noted that Tsacheva’s appearances in the presidential debates actually led to her losing support even from voters that traditionally support GERB. Having said that, the debates also revealed few policy differences between Tsacheva and Radev. 

Turnout is expected to be high because of new rules on mandatory voting. Gallup and Mediana also expect high turnout. The former sees it at 55%, whereas the latter expects 3.8mn - 4mn people to participate. 69% of respondents in the Alpha Research survey said that they would vote in the election. 

Opposition political parties and analysts fear that Tsacheva could win not because of votes cast for her, but due to the new compulsory voting rules. 

According to analysts, all ‘I do not support any candidate’ votes will be distributed among the candidates proportionally to the support they have gained. Thus, Tsacheva would benefit the most as, according to expectations of local analysts, the number of votes not supporting anyone are expected to be significant.

A national referendum is also scheduled for November 6. Bulgarians will be asked to vote on three issues – the introduction of majority election of the MPs, the introduction of mandatory voting, and setting the annual state subsidy for political parties and coalitions at BGN1 (€0.5) per valid vote received at the last parliamentary elections.

Electoral preferences, %    
  Gallup Mediana
Tsetska Tsacheva 27.2 31.4
Rumen Radev 23.1 27.0
Krassimir Karakachanov 11.5 11.9
Vesselin Mareshki 7.6 6.9
Plamen Oresharski 7.3 5.8
Traicho Traikov 5.1 4.9
Ivaylo Kalfin 4.9 4.4
Tatyana Doncheva 2.7 2.1
Others 4.9 1.4
Do not support anyone 5.7 4.2
TOTAL 100.0 100.0
Source: Gallup, BTA