Bulgaria – the EU Parliamentary Elections.

Political Background

Bulgaria is one of the newest EU countries, having joined in 2007.

Bulgaria was one of the poorer and less developed communist states. Unusually, Bulgarians did not elect former dissidents but rather the Communist’s legal successor, the Bulgarian Socialist Party after the beginning of democracy, initially slowing progress towards capitalism and democracy, though Bulgaria was, broadly speaking, a functioning liberal democracy by the mid-90s.

Since the fall of Communism the BSP has competed for power with a series of centre-right parties which have a tendency to fall as fast as they rise, but which are broadly dependent upon the same set of voters. Additionally, no Bulgarian government has ever been re-elected.

The latest of these parties is the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB). GERB won a huge victory in the 2009 election, coming just a few seats short of a majority, allowing them to form a robust minority government.

At the beginning of 2013, however, mass-protests began. At first these protests were primarily around high prices in the notoriously corrupt energy sector, but they began to encompass objections to poverty and corruption.

GERB’s problems were only increased when it was revealed that the Deputy PM had been wiretapping political opponents, businessmen and journalists.

Early elections held in 2013 led to an inconclusive result with GERB winning the most seats, but on a much reduced vote share and with no potential coalition partners, and with the BSP and its preferred coalition partner , the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), winning 120/240 seats. The BSP was able to form a government, with the tacit approval of the fourth party, the extreme nationalist ATAKA party.

This shakiness led to accusations of the government lacking a mandate and the BSP’s tacit working together with ATAKA was extremely controversial. Controversy was further aroused when the government appointed Delyan Peevski, a MP for the DPS, and the owner of a large media empire who is rumoured to be very corrupt, as the head of the State Security Agency.

The controversy that was aroused by Peevski was enough to set off fresh mass-protests which are still ongoing. One month after the Peevski appointment, parliament unilaterally reversed its decision.

These European elections are being closely watched in Bulgaria as they are seen as a measurement of support for a very weak government with some speculation that a poor result may bring down the government.

Bulgaria is the EU’s poorest country, and its lowest ranking (77th) in the Corruption Perceptions Index. Under GERB the country’s Press Freedom Index ranking collapsed from 35th to 87th in the world. Organised crime is rife and affects every level of society up to the very top.

Relations with the EU are occasionally strained by corruption. The EU has a tendency to withdraw funds from Bulgaria. For instance, the Commission suspended payments under its Environment Operation Program in November, and the Commission is now threatening to make this suspension permanent.

Electoral System

Bulgaria will elect 17 MEPs, down by 1 from the Lisbon redistribution. Bulgaria uses a semi-open list system whereby parties get seats broadly in proportion to their votes with seats usually filled from the parties ranked lists. Voters may cast a single preference vote for a candidate of their choice. Any candidate getting 15% of the national vote is automatically elected. In reality this is a very high threshold of public support, incredibly difficult to get.

Bulgaria’s parliament is currently working on a new version of the electoral code with the intention that this be done in time for the European Elections (though this seems unlikely).

2009 Election Result

Party European Political Party Votes Seats
Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) European People’s Party 24.4% 5
Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) Socialists and Democrats 18.5% 4
Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe 14.1% 3
Attack Party (ATAKA) None 12.0% 2
National Movement for Stability and Progress Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe 8.0% 2
Blue Coalition (now linked with the Reformist Bloc) European People’s Party 8.0% 2

Other notably parties in the running including:

Alternative for Bulgarian Renaissance

Bulgaria Without Censorship

Likely results

Polls currently show a close battle between the BSP and GERB for first place. The DPS claims to be aiming for 4 seats, but is more likely to win 2 or 3. Bulgaria without Censorship, the Reformist Bloc and the Alternative for Bulgarian Renaissance are all likely to win seats. ATAKA is likely to fall out of the European Parliament altogether and the NDSV will almost certainly do the same.