General Elections in Bulgaria, a round up one week before the vote


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


26 June 2009

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Deloy Corinne

Corinne Deloy

Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

4,295 candidates representing 14 political parties and four party coalitions are running in the general elections that will take place on 5th July next in Bulgaria. Bulgarians living abroad will be able to fulfil their civic duty in 62 countries; 252 polling stations have been opened abroad to this end half (123) of which are in Turkey.

"Stability and effectiveness are the key words which should embody the management of the country over the next two years especially during the crisis. It is also imperative that we reach consensus after the general elections, which will lead to the formation of a stable government that can implement the necessary measures to face the world economic and financial crisis. The present situation is such that it requires the future government to put forward a programme as quickly as possible," declared President of the Republic Georgi Parvanov in the daily Standart. The Head of State also said that he was not expecting any radical changes in the result in terms of the European elections. "That will mean that the formation of the future government will be extremely difficult. A two party coalition seems impossible for the time being. In any case I am sceptical about a possible coalition between the Socialist Party (BSP) and the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB). The formation of the next government will be difficult," he concluded.

With regard to the majority voting system (the electoral law was changed in April and a mixed voting system, close to that applied in Germany was established: 31 of the 240 MPs will be appointed by majority vote, the remaining 209 will be appointed by a proportional vote, the Bulgarian President regretted that the parties had not invited experienced personalities from political and social spheres to run as candidates. "I expected many more initiative committees, more people whose candidacy would be launched in a totally spontaneous manner," said Georgi Parvanov.

The main opposition party, the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) seems to have lost hope of winning the absolute majority on 5th July, whilst the Socialist Party (PSB) seems to have given up its dream of remaining the country's leading political force. According to Antoni Todorov, a political analyst at the new Bulgarian university, five parties are almost guaranteed a place in Parliament: the GERB, the Socialist Party, the Movement for Rights and Freed, which represents the Turkish minority, Ataka, the far right party led by Volen Siderov, and the Blue Coalition that rallies the Union of Democratic Forces, (ODS) and the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB).

In the European elections on 7th June last the 'small' parties were the source of surprise notably the Party of Order, Law and Justice (RZS) which won 4.67% of the vote and Lider which won 5.7%. Eight parties rose above the vital 4% threshold to be able to have a seat in Strasbourg. "This can be explained by the fact that the parties created by businessmen emerged in many places just before the last local elections on 28th October and 4th November 2007. They proved their strength in 2007 in some areas where they won more than both the GERB and the BSP. It is notably those parties which Lider managed to bring together," indicates political analyst Ivan Krastev in the newspaper Troud. "The anti-government vote did not just focus on one party," stresses Tsevetozar Tomov of the agency Sacla.

Just one week before the general elections the issue is therefore to see whether the vote will be fragmented again or whether everything will go to the GERB. The fragmentation of the political arena is still the scenario privileged by the political analysts.

Lider was created in 2007 by energy oligarch Hristo Kovachki whose reputation remains tumultuous. The latter promised that his party, which comprises 50,000 members, would double that number after the general elections. Lider, a businessman's party allied to Novoto Vreme (New Times), hopes to win between 14 and 18 seats on 5th July. The party's electorate is mainly urban and lies to the right of the political scale. Its programme which comprises 30 points includes a new agreement with the IMF, the creation of an investment fund with the participation of Bulgarian and foreign banks, a reduction of VAT from 20% to 18% and the adoption of a law on the partnership between the state and private sectors. Lider also supports greater fiscal discipline and the rapid adoption of the euro by Bulgaria. Finally Hristo Kovachki has said that he would be ready to work with the far right party, Ataka.

For its part the Order, Law and Justice Party (RZS) wants to reform the State in depth and is asking for a new Constitution. Its leader Yané Yanev is also fighting for the eradication of corruption which he qualifies as Bulgaria's N°1 problem.

The GERB rejected the proposal to form an alliance with the Blue Coalition in this general election which meant that in 31 constituencies electing MPs by the majority vote, one quarter of the candidates would have been running for the latter and the remaining three quarters for the GERB. However GERB chose to run alone. Its leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that the election of 10 MPs from his party by a majority vote would be considered a good result. The Blue Coalition and the GERB continue negotiations in view of forming a future government. "If necessary, I may become the next Prime Minister," declared the Mayor of Sofia and informal leader of the GERB, Boïko Borissov.

The party believes the measures adopted by the government to fight the economic and financial crisis inadequate and is requesting the signature of an agreement with the IMF. The party suggests a reduction in social security contributions and the establishment of sanctions for late restitution of VAT which is the greatest problem facing Bulgarian companies. Boïko Borissov signed a stability pact with the Bulgarian business and industrial leaders' confederation, led by Ivo Prokopiev. Finally in the event of his appointment as head of state he threatened to dismiss any minister from his party if "they were caught undertaking any type of embezzlement and corrupt activities."

According to surveys GERB voters are mainly from the middle classes. Their average age is 45 and they mainly live in towns and are more qualified than is average amongst the population.

Although it bore up relatively well in the European elections on 7th June last, the Socialist Party did however lose some of its ability to motivate its electorate. "Between the Socialists and the GERB, I cannot see the overwhelming difference that had been promised, which means that voters do not perceive in Boïko Borissov's party an alternative to the present three party coalition," said Prime Minister Serguey Stanishev after the European election. He added that the three coalition parties in government (BSP, the National Movement for Stability and Progress and the Movement for Rights and Freedom) had won more votes together than the mayor of Sofia's party.

The Head of Government is focusing the campaign on the fact that the government coalition has achieved more things than promised on taking office in 2005. He says that thanks to a rise in the GDP Bulgarian incomes have increased by 70% during his term in office and that Bulgaria has been less affected than other EU states by the international economic crisis. "Bulgarians are better protected than the citizens in the Federal Republic of Germany," stresses Serguey Stanishev. The confederation of pensioners' organizations has given its support to the Coalition for Bulgaria led by the Socialist Party. "The Socialist Party's electoral platform is the only one to convey our requests and needs," reads a confederation press release that does recall however that 1.3 million pensioners i.e. more than 65% have revenues lower than the poverty threshold which in Bulgaria rises to 194 leva per month (99.20€) and per person. The Socialist Party has promised to continue reforms started if it wins the general elections.

According to Boryana Dimitrova of the Alpha Research Institute the BSP electorate is old: 39% of the over 50's voted for the Socialist Party in the European elections on 7th June last and only 17% of these chose the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria.

The Movement for Rights and Freedom, a member of the outgoing government coalition, is counting on the mobilization of its electorate to maintain and improve its result on 5th July. Ahmed Dogan's party has a sound electoral base which has been rising constantly over the last few years.

The National Movement for Stability and Progress (MNSE) signed an electoral agreement with Alexander Karakachanov's Green Party which has promised to bring it 80,000 votes in the general elections. The MNSE's results in the European election surprised political analysts. However the personality of the lead candidate (European Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Meglena Kuneva) has certainly counted a great deal in the party's success – revealing the importance of the change made to the voting system and the fact that majority voting, which generally increases interest for the elections notably in constituencies where personalities are running, may bear some surprises – but nothing shows that the MNSE will be able to repeat its success.

According to political observers the general elections on 5th July are due to attract a million more Bulgarians than the European election on 7th June – in which turnout rose to 37.49%. If turnout rises to three million voters for example, 120,000 will be required to win a seat, 140,000 if 3.5 million Bulgarians turn out to vote.

According to the most recent poll by Mediana, published in the daily Standart, the GERB is due to win 35.8% of the vote ahead of the Socialist Party 23.9%, the MDL 12.8%, Ataka 8.9%, the Order, Law and Justice Party 6%, the Blue Coalition 5.7% and Lider 3.9%.

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