Bulgaria’s center-right GERB yesterday emerged as the winner of national elections, but faced a struggle to form a government, suggesting no early end to the political stalemate that has gripped the EU’s poorest country.
The party led by former Bulgarian prime minister Boiko Borisov, which according to preliminary results won 31.4 percent of Sunday’s vote, will have first chance to form an administration.
However, other parties said they were reluctant to cooperate with GERB, which resigned from government in February mired in allegations of corruption, and the second-place Socialists said they would look to ensure Borisov did not return to power.
The often outspoken Borisov kept an unusually low profile following the vote and GERB — which held debt and spending low before quitting during nationwide protests — did not hold a post-election rally or make grandiose victory claims.
“GERB will be responsible to the nation. [Borisov] is capable of proposing and forming a government — it could be a minority one,” said former Bulgarian interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, ranked second in the party.
Widespread disenchantment with the voting process was reflected in turnout figures of just 53 percent, the lowest for any parliamentary election since the fall of communism in 1989.
Six years after joining the EU, many of Bulgaria’s 7.3 million people are angry about low living standards and graft, following a campaign that consisted more of mudslinging than presenting clear policies and was marred by scandals over wiretapping and illegal ballots that hurt GERB’s support.
Bulgaria has been run by a caretaker government since former bodyguard Borisov resigned from office in February during protests against low living standards and corruption, in which seven people set themselves on fire.
The unclear result of Sunday’s vote raises questions over the country’s economic policy and could mean another ballot will be needed, possibly in September, analysts and pollsters said.
With 69 percent of ballots counted, the Socialists were in second place, with 27.4 percent of the vote. Ethnic Turkish party MRF had 9.2 percent and nationalist Attack 7.6 percent. No other party had the 4 percent required to win seats.
MRF also ruled out working with GERB, which may be able to control a slim majority with backing from Attack, as it did to form a government in 2009.
The nationalists’ leader has also ruled that out, though some analysts said that may be a negotiation position that could be softened.
Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev said he was certain that GERB would not be able to form a government and that his party was ready to hold talks with MRF, Attack and citizens’ organizations to form a Cabinet to avoid fresh protests.
“The first task is to get GERB out of power,” Stanishev said. “We will take the responsibility to form a government.”
While the Socialists can count on support from traditional partner MRF, it would find it hard to convince them to work with Attack, which has a track record of anti-Turkish rhetoric.
About 200 demonstrators rallied on Sunday night outside the venue planned for a press conference by GERB, waving Bulgarian flags and burning torches. As it became clear GERB seniors would not show up, leaders of small parties formed by protesters, which will not enter parliament, took to the platform to decry politicians and demand more help for Bulgaria’s poorest.
Several parties have expressed concern over vote rigging, though there have been few significant complaints so far.
“I already voted at the previous elections and I saw that nothing changed. On the contrary, it became worse,” said Deyan Enchev, 24, a student in Sofia.