On Sunday 26 March 2017, Bulgaria held Parliamentary elections to elect 240 Members to its National Assembly. The third general election in four years, a snap election was called following the Presidential election and the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in November 2016. These 2017 elections saw Mr Borisov’s Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria remain as the largest party.
The National Assembly of Bulgaria comprises 240 Members who are elected for a four year term. The seats are filled using open-list proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies, whereby voters primarily express their preference for a party or party groupings. Parties or party groupings must receive more than 4% of national popular vote to sit in the Parliament.
Parliamentary elections were called in November 2016, following the results of the Presidential election, when Rumen Radev was elected. President Radev had run on a platform of closer ties with Russia, while also favouring Bulgaria’s membership of the EU and NATO. Backed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), he defeated the candidate from the largest party, Citizens for a European Development of Bulgaria Party (GERB), Tsetska Tsacheva. Boyko Borisov, who had hinged his leadership on Ms Tsacheva’s performance in the election, resigned as Prime Minister following her defeat.
The centre-right GERB is led by Mr Borisov, who served as Prime Minister from 2009-2013 and 2014-2017 and is also a former Mayor of the capital city of Bulgaria, Sofia. The party is a member of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, while the main opposition party, the BSP, is a member of Socialists and Democrats group. The BSP’s leader is Kornelia Ninova, who became the party’s first female leader in 2016. In the election campaign, the BSP threatened to veto EU sanctions against Russia and suggested to restart the Russian-backed Belen project to build a new nuclear plant in Bulgaria. Speaking to the media, Ms Ninova stressed that she remains committed to the EU, but objected to Bulgaria being what she described as a “second-class member”. Polls published in the run up to the election suggested a close result between the GERB and the BSP.
The United Patriots, a right-wing, nationalist grouping, comprise of the Bulgarian National Movement, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria and Attack. Campaigning on an anti-migrant platform, the grouping was expected to make gains in the National Assembly and play a prominent role in coalition talks. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) represents the 700,000 ethnic Turkish minority in Bulgaria, is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Parliament, and was also seen as a potential coalition partner.
DPS’s critical stance towards Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has lead to a new pro-Ankara party, Democrats for Responsibility, Solidarty and Tolerance (DOST). Another small party hoping to make gains was Volya, which was founded by businessman Veselin Marshki, who was frequently compared to US President Donald Trump in international media.
Corruption remains a prominent issue in Bulgarian politics and two anti-corruption factions were seeking to gain seats on this platform, the New Republic grouping and Yes Bulgaria, founded by former Justice Minister, Hristo Ivanov.
Former Prime Minister Borisov is likely to be restored as Prime Minister once again after his party, GERB, was returned as the largest party in the National Assembly. While GERB outperformed the exit polls and won by a larger margin than expected, they fell short of achieving an overall majority. GERB won 32.6% of the vote compared to the BSP’s 27.1%, their best result since 2005. The United Patriots are the third largest party with 9.1% of the vote, while the DPS received 9%. Volya narrowly exceeded the electoral threshold with 4.15% to also gain seats in the National Assembly.
DOST, New Republic and Yes Bulgaria failed to surpass the 4% threshold required to win seats in the Bulgarian National Assembly.
The newly elected National Assembly will be convened for their first session by President Radev within a month following the election.
Mr Borisov and the GERB party are expected to lead coalition talks to form a government. Ms Ninova has ruled out any possibility of the BSP joining GERB in a grand coalition. Coalitions are common in Bulgarian’s multi-party system and talks to form a government are expected to take several weeks.