While reform-oriented opposition lists There is Such People (ITN), Democratic Bulgaria (DB), and Stand Up! Thugs Out! (IS.BG.) will see their position in parliament strengthened following the 11 July legislative elections, they still lack enough seats to form a majority government. Another fragmented parliament points to a protracted government formation process, continued political instability, and difficulties in advancing reforms and handling the pandemic.
With 99% of ballots counted, the populist newcomer ITN received 23.9% of votes and claimed a narrow victory over the center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) with 23.7%. The center-left Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) came in third with 13.5%, ahead of the DB alliance with 12.6%. The Turkish ethnic minority-representing Movement of the Rights and Freedoms (MRF) is fourth with 10.7%. As in the 4 April vote, the last electoral list to enter parliament is IS.BG. with 5%. Turnout is estimated at a record-low 41%.
The Central Election Commission will announce the final results by Thursday, 15 April. Once the new parliament is convened – expectedly in the second half of July – President Rumen Radev (independent) will appoint a Prime Minister- designate from the largest parliamentary group (ITN), who will then have seven days to form a government and win a vote of confidence in parliament.
However, government formation will likely prove challenging. In contrast to previous expectations of ITN partnering with other reform-oriented opposition lists DB and IS.BG., ITN leader Slavi Trifonov announced that his party would not enter coalitions talks with any other groups in parliament. Instead, Trifonov is seeking support for a technocratic cabinet, which includes a mix of cabinet members in former governments and professionals with limited experience in politics. Unless ITN shows flexibility regarding the proposed government members and policy priorities, such a technocratic cabinet might face difficulties in winning parliament’s approval. Even if approved, the technocratic cabinet would have limited ability to carry out reforms as it would have to negotiate support for each legislative bill in parliament. In addition, the so-called establishment parties GERB, BSP, and MRF together hold a majority in parliament and could block any new proposals or even initiate a vote of no-confidence.
If the ITN-proposed cabinet fails to win parliament’s backing, Radev will give the mandate to form a government to the second-largest parliamentary group, GERB. However, its chances of succeeding remain very low. Therefore, the final attempt to form a government would go to a smaller parliamentary group chosen by the president, most like BSP or DB. To prevent a third parliamentary election and avoid potential constitutional challenges due to the upcoming presidential elections in October/November, these parties could be expected to propose another technocratic cabinet, which has the best chances of winning parliament’s approval.
The protracted political stalemate is hindering reforms and the country’s chances of fending off potential new waves of the Covid-19 pandemic. To date, less than 13% of the population is fully vaccinated, which is by far the lowest figure in the EU. The lack of political urgency to promote vaccinations and tackle widespread conspiracy theories on the topic will keep inoculations slow, posing a risk of new significant economic restrictions in the autumn. The ongoing political turmoil may also delay the implementation of Bulgaria’s recovery and resilience plan, which is yet to be submitted to the European Commission.