Bulgaria – a reformist’s path or sleepwalking towards disaster?

by Anton Stoyanov

 

Bulgaria’s political crisis is unlikely to resolve itself any time soon and it is likely for the already difficult political situation to further complicate itself

 

On 11 July 2021 Bulgarians went to the poll for the second and certainly not last time of the year. The elections came just a few short months after a failed attempt to form a ruling majority in April.  Currently the country is governed by a caretaker government, appointed by the Bulgarian President Rumen Radev.

The April and July elections had much in common - they both highlighted the same trends, played the same tunes in terms of where the general public opinion was and also brought to the fore the sharp divisions of Bulgarian society. Both elections were also extremely inconclusive. But while back in April no party even truly considered governing, the situation took a sharp turn in July as parties realized that going down an election spiral might not lead to the best results. 


Newcomers on the stage

The 11 July elections were won by the party of Bulgarian TV show host and singer Slavi Trifonov – There is Such a People (ITN). Back in April he came in 2nd but thanks to the crumbling support for former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB party, Mr Trifonov got catapulted to the first place – with a 0.5% lead.

But with great power comes great responsibility and as per Bulgaria’s constitution, the party that came in first in an election gets first dibs to form a government. In his usual style, Mr Trifonov presented his government lineup on Facebook and on his own TV channel, shortly before the official conclusions of the elections. The move was met with severe skepticism by the other political parties. The problem was that ITN managed to win barely 65 seats out of 240 in the Bulgarian parliament which meant that he would naturally need allies to help him form a majority.

Yet his approach drew the ire of ITN’s natural allies – Democratic Bulgaria (DB) and Stand up.bg! We’re coming! (IBGNI) who came in at, respectfully, 4th and 6th place and who should have made up the bulk of the anti-status-quo coalition.


Light at the end of the tunnel or dead end?

After a failed attempt to form a government without any consultations, talks began early last week and have produced several breakthroughs – among them broad agreements on a much-needed judicial reform as well as key points on changes to the country’s social and healthcare systems. Yet right before the clock struck twelve, ITN had yet another plot twist meant to shock the audience.

On 30 July, just before being handed the mandate to form a new government, Mr Trifonov’s party allegedly leaked the name of the man who they were considering to nominate for Prime Minister only to take it back a couple of hours later and come up with a brand-new proposal – a little known candidate who had gone through a movie-style audition to become an MP for ITN – Plamen Nikolov.


Furor and suspense

Tensions have been boiling since the announcement. ITN’s natural allies felt blindsided by the announcement and have declared that they would not agree to support any government unless it commits, in writing, to a list of reforms. But Mr Trifonov has continued with his “take it or leave it” style of negotiations and is threatening fresh elections should the two parties refuse to support his proposed government.

Mr Nikolov meanwhile has already come under the scrutiny of media outlets and political commentators who have pointed to a range of inadequacies – from his lack of experience to his last minute appointment.

Currently there are 2 likely outcomes. Should nothing come out of the ongoing talks and pending no surprises, the parliament will be dissolved in a few weeks as no other party finds itself capable to form a government. Thus, Bulgarians will head for their 3rd parliamentary elections in 2021 sometime in late autumn.

But if tensions between the anti-status-quo parties calm down or if the establishment parties reach a behind-the-scenes agreement, by the end of the week Bulgaria could find itself with a minority government that finds its support on an ad-hoc basis.

Currently, there is no telling which outcome is more likely. Mr Trifonov and his party have proven themselves to be unpredictable and their lack of political experience and somewhat inconsistent behaviour have been the source of issues for their would-be partners. That means that even if an agreement is reached, it is likely that no government, no matter what its setup looks like, would be able to survive long.

What’s left is to wait and see what the morrow brings.

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