Bulgaria’s Gerb wins snap general election amid record-low turnout

Bulgaria’s Gerb wins snap general election amid record-low turnout
An almost empty polling station in Sofia. / bne IntelliNews
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia June 9, 2024

The Gerb party, led by former prime minister Boyko Borissov, won the June 9 snap general election and European Parliament election in Bulgaria, amid the lowest-ever turnout of slightly over 30%. 

Gerb now seems to be in a position to form a coalition government with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and populist There Are Such People (ITN).

Exit polls show that the race for the second place is tight between reformist pro-Western Change Continues-Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB), the DPS and the far-right pro-Russian Vazrazhdane party.

Gerb won between 26 and 28% of the votes, while CC-DB – its former partner in the previous parliament – got between 15.4% and 15.7%, while the DPS has between 14.3% and 15.6%. Vazrazhdane is close with between 13% and 14.7%.

Two more parties are passing the 4% threshold – the pro-Russian Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) with between 8% and 9.8% and ITN with 5.8-6.7%.

There is a possibility that another far-right pro-Russian formation could also pass the threshold and make it into parliament. According the partial vote count, Greatness will enter the parliament and will have 11 MPs, despite being under investigation for illegal paramilitary training and frauds related to acquisition of property.

The biggest loser of the sixth general election since April 2021 is CC-DB, which lost the most votes compared to the previous election held in April last year.

CC-DB lost nearly 10% of its voters compared to April 2023, while Gerb lost just 0.6%. Support for Vazrazhdane has increased by 0.5% and that for DPS increased by 1.5%. The BSP and ITN also got more support compared to the previous election.

“We heard you. We shall be a constructive opposition in parliament to the plans of Borissov and [DPS co-leader, the Magnitsky sanctioned Delyan] Peevski to drag us back to the times of the lean pizza and the racketeering,” Kiril Petkov, co-leader of CC, wrote on Facebook.

CC-DB has already said it would no longer work together with Gerb and DPS after its bad experience in the previous parliament.

Peevski, on the other hand, thanked voters and said he personally will take on the responsibility given to the party by its voters.

President Radev warming up for new political project

While a three-party coalition is highly likely after the June 9 vote despite the low turnout, President Rumen Radev said that if the country continues to be governed by “unprincipled coalitions, a political alternative will appear sooner or later”, indicating that he could develop his own political project.

Radev has been associated with the possible creation of political project after his closest associates established the Third March national movement. Radev did not confirm directly that he intends to form his own  party but that is widely expected by analysts and politicians.

He also accused politicians of “ruthlessly stripping off their coverups” to show their true faces. He accused all parties of putting their own interests ahead of the public interest.

Although Radev’s rating decreased significantly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and his u-turn towards Russia, he still is the politician with the highest rating in the country – around 35%. If he launches his own project, it could significantly change the political landscape and bring Bulgaria firmly back into Russia’s orbit.

“Bulgarians do not want to live like Europeans”

Bulgarian parties gained similar results in the vote for European Parliament on June 9 with Gerb leading with around a quarter of the votes followed by CC-DB, the DPS and Vazrazhdane. The turnout was also low.

“Not a single second since 1879 has the majority of Bulgarians wanted to live like Europeans. They wanted to live like animals: the strong man to decide what the life of the weak should be,” prominent political analyst Evgenii Dainov wrote on Facebook.

“Bulgarians who want to be Europeans have always been a minority. From time to time, they became a large minority, and even received electoral support. But then always, always, the notorious second mind of the Bulgarian worked. And he has kicked his pro-European representatives out of power in order to put power back in the hands of those who treat him like an animal. Today we saw another episode,” he added.

PR expert Lubomir Alamanov commented that all political formations contributed to the low turnout with their actions. He called on CC-DB to carry out a profound analysis of its poor result and what led to it, saying that the coalition made significant mistakes, especially in its communications with voters.

Although a Gerb-DPS-ITN coalition seems highly possible, multiple analysts noted that a new snap vote in autumn is not excluded as Borissov might not want to enter into an official coalition with the DPS.