Following the parliamentary elections on May 12, Bulgaria's position has changed little - same parties, same faces, same problems.
According to partial results, the winner of the election was former PM Boiko Borisov's centre-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria, or "GERB", which was the party that was ousted in February in the face of mass protests provoked by high electricity bills that broadened into expressions of systemic discontent with "monopolies" and "the mafia".
GERB won with about 31.4% of the vote, better than the latest polls showed, and as the largest party it will have first chance to form a government. That will be hard, as it is well short of a majority in Bulgaria's 240-seat parliament and will have to form a coalition, but partners are thin on the ground.
Borisov made no remarks after the vote, but former interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, ranked second in the party, was quoted by Reuters as saying: "GERB will be responsible to the nation. [Borisov] is capable of proposing and forming a government - it could be a minority one."
In second place was Sergei Stanishev's Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) with 27.4% of the vote, which was around what the polls had predicted.
Stanishev said he was certain that GERB would not be able to form a government, and that his party was ready to hold talks with the ethnic Turkish party MRF (9.2%) and nationalist Ataka (7.6%) to form a coalition. New parties that had formed out of the protests did not make it into parliament.
"The first task is to get GERB out of power," Stanishev said. "We will start talks with the first two parties that will enter the parliament... We will take the responsibility to form a government. We will also talk with different citizens' organizations and help citizens' controls over institutions. I will make sure that talks with other parties and citizens organizations [are] held transparently."
A quick formation of government would help prevent a resurgence of the street protests that toppled the last government under Borisov. Bulgaria is in an ugly mood - the people are tired of their venal, squabbling and incompetent politicians, austerity measures due to the crisis, and the pervasive corruption. Unemployment in this poorest part of the EU has hit 12% and is identified as the main problem by almost 58% of Bulgarians.
The election campaign was dominated by allegations of the widespread use of wiretapping by the Interior Ministry during Borisov's premiership. And the vote itself was marred by allegations of fraud and political manipulation after officials seized 350,000 unregistered ballots at a printing house in the town of Kostinbrod which happened to be owned by a local politician from GERB. Because official ballot papers had already been distributed to polling stations on May 8, the newly found collection appeared suspicious.
The fallout means that forming a government and creating the conditions for the urgent problems to be addressed looks unlikely. The caretaker government has been wrestling with overcapacity in the energy sector that's leading to short time at the country's lignite mines and probably illegal curtailments of its renewables capacity. And it's trying to find a way to avoid electricity price hikes in a tariff revision due mid-year, where energy companies' proposals add up to 15-20%. With electricity the cause of February's protests, the chances of further unrest can't be discounted.
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