Bulgaria’s former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov appeared on track to take first place in a parliamentary election, though a fragmented party landscape meant the nation may be headed for an extended period of political paralysis.
In the fourth election in less than two years, Borissov’s conservative party won 26% of the vote, according to an Alpha Research exit poll broadcast on public television on Sunday. The party of former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, whose reformist government lasted only seven months before being toppled in June, came second with 20%, the poll showed. Official results will come in through the evening.
Borissov’s political isolation and Petkov’s waning support mean that neither leader has a clear path to forming a government. A prolonged period of coalition building — and even the prospect of a fifth election — could hobble Bulgaria’s ability to address record inflation, a euro adoption plan and the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Bulgarian voters “expect compromises to be made — they want a government to be formed,” Boryana Dimitrova, a managing partner for Alpha Research, told public broadcaster BNT. “It won’t be easy.”
The European Union’s poorest member state has been propelled into its gravest crisis in decades after Russia, an erstwhile ally, cut off gas supplies in April. Almost completely reliant on the Kremlin’s energy imports before the conflict, the squeeze has left leaders in the nation of 6.5 million scrambling for new resources.
Radev Holds the Reins
In the absence of an elected government, the void so far has been filled by an interim cabinet appointed by President Rumen Radev, a retired general who has fended off accusations of softening the country’s stance on Moscow.
While Petkov sought to force a hard turn away from Russia, Radev’s caretaker government has moved to revive talks with Russian state-owned Gazprom PJSC to resume supplies.
The head of state was critical of EU sanctions imposed after the Kremlin’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, which he at one point signaled belonged to Russia. In an address last week, Radev condemned President Vladimir Putin’s aggression, but also warned that the EU should mitigate the risks of its own sanctions against Kremlin.
“It’s becoming harder and harder to form a government,” Radev told reporters in Sofia earlier on Sunday after he cast his vote. “Our country needs strong and institutions legitimate to overcome the crises, to undertake decisive reforms and to take strategic decisions with a long-term horizon.”
Borissov Isolated, Petkov Weakened
Borissov’s Gerb dominated the nation for more than a decade before losing power last year to Petkov’s party, known as We Continue the Change. Backed by mass anti-corruption protests targeting Borissov, Petkov defeated the conservatives on a pledge to tackle corruption. That support has waned, though Borissov’s political isolation gives him few options.
A party traditionally representing Bulgaria’s ethnic Turks, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, came third with 14%, the exit polls showed, while Bulgaria’s pro-Russian Socialists had the backing of 10%. Revival, an ultranationalist party, won 10% — worse than expected.
Party leaders will have three chances to form a majority. If that fails, the president will be forced to call a new vote.
(Updates with Bulgaria in crisis, president’s role from fourth paragraph.)