Sofia, Bulgaria: Bulgaria holds snap parliamentary elections on Sunday after the last and indecisive vote in the spring, with veteran former premier Boyko Borisov no longer sure of coming out on top.
Despite daily anti-government protests last summer, a string of scandals, and political exhaustion from its almost 10 years in power, the GERB party of the 62-year-old former bodyguard with a black belt in karate managed to top the poll in the election in April.
But the other parties in the badly fragmented parliament refused to govern alongside him while also failing to agree on an alternative coalition.
That prompted the appointment of an interim cabinet and Sunday’s snap election.
It seems clear “who will not govern” as GERB will once again be isolated, according to Julius Pavloff, director of Sofia’s Centre for Analysis and Marketing.
“But who do voters want in power? The question remains open,” he told AFP.
There seems to be no easy answer as pollsters predict another fractured parliament with six groupings likely to pass the four percent entry threshold.
According to the latest poll, the anti-establishment There is Such a People (ITN) party formed early last year by showman-turned-politician Slavi Trifonov, 54, is now polling at around 21 percent, virtually neck-and-neck with GERB.
Third or fourth vote?
The already weakened Borisov has recently suffered a series of further blows from revelations about bad governance and allegations of corruption under his watch.
On top of that came unprecedented US sanctions against Bulgarian oligarchs who were favored during Borisov’s time in power, according to his critics.
But will his opponents muster the necessary combined majority and an agreement to form a cabinet?
Trifonov’s ITN party has already refused to work with either GERB or the opposition Socialists, the traditional parties of government.
Instead, it hopes to cobble together a coalition with the parties that emerged from last summer’s protests — right-wing Democratic Bulgaria, polling at 12 percent, and the left-wing Stand Up! Mafia Out, with between five and six percent.
“To get a stable government… we cannot rule out a third or a fourth election,” Toshko Yordanov, ITN’s deputy chairman, told Nova television on Wednesday.
“The country will not collapse, this is the democratic process,” he added in a rare public appearance at the end of an unconventional election campaign that has seen most parties shun media interviews.
T-shirts and autographs
Trifonov has been the least talkative of the major candidates, communicating through Facebook and holding one question-and-answer session with students.
He has announced that he will not run for prime minister but “can carry responsibility from another institution… when the time comes”.
Boriana Dimitrova, a director of Bulgarian survey company Alpha Research, predicted: “fragile majorities and unstable coalitions” ahead.
Pavloff also warned against the consequences of another failure on the part of anti-Borisov parties to reach an agreement.
“If they prompt new elections, they will be severely punished by the voters,” he said.
For his part, Borisov, campaigning in packed sports halls in the countryside, still hopes to bounce back.
He highlights the roads and other infrastructure built during his almost 10 years in power and his diplomatic successes that “stopped an influx of migrants” from neighboring Turkey. He also met last week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
GERB’s supporters, wearing T-shirts with the face of their leader and bustling to get his autograph at campaign events, hope they will come out first once again but also expect that, if they win, it will be by a thin margin.
“We hope that the other parties will show responsibility and form a government, with or without us,” said Krasimir Kyuchukov, while Borisov — dressed casually in jeans and a pink shirt — signed his card.