Both Bulgaria and Finland held general elections on Sunday, 2 April. In Bulgaria, it was its fifth general election since April 2021. The Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria emerged as the largest party. Party leader and former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was the focus of nationwide anti-corruption demonstrations in 2020. While in Finland, the party of Prime Minister Sanna Marin, the Social Democratic Party of Finland, came third. This Just the Facts examines their parliamentary systems, the 2023 campaigns and results of both elections.
Bulgaria and Finland’s parliamentary system
Bulgaria is parliamentary representative democracy, with a unicameral system of parliament. The Narodno sabranie (National Assembly) is the legislative body of Bulgaria, and is made up of 240 MPs, all of whom are elected every four years through proportional representation across 31 multi-seat constituencies. Parties are required to win 4% of the vote in a general election to enter the Narodno sabranie. The voting system is mixed: 31 MPs are elected by first past the post system and 209 by the proportional representation system (on closed lists).
The Narodno sabranie nominates a candidate to become prime minister. This candidate must be approved by the Narodno sabranie and the president in order to take up office. Once the prime minister has secured a mandate from parliament, they can attempt to form a government. A working majority requires 121 MPs.
The current Prime Minister since August 2022 has been Galab Donev, an independent politician who leads a technocratic government. The current President of Bulgaria is Rumen Radev, who has held the position since January 2017.
Bulgaria joined the EU in January 2007 with Romania.
Finland is a parliamentary representative democracy, with a unicameral system of parliament. The Suomen eduskunta (Parliament of Finland) is the legislative body of Finland, and is made up of 200 MPs, all of whom are elected every four years through proportional representation across 13 multi-seat constituencies.
The Suomen eduskunta elects the Prime Minister, who is then appointed to office by the President of Finland. A working majority requires 101 MPs. Just once has a party won an outright majority, when the Social Democratic Party of Finland won 103 seats in the July 1916 general election.
The current Prime Minister since December 2019 has been Sanna Marin of the Social Democratic Party of Finland. She headed a coalition government with the Centre Party, the Green League, the Left Alliance, and the Swedish People’s Party. The current President of Finland since March 2012 has been Sauli Niinistö of the centre-right National Coalition Party. The coalition commanded 117 seats in Suomen eduskunta.
2023 Campaign Issues
Bulgarians went to the polls for the fifth time in two years on Sunday, 2 April, due to inconclusive elections and “prolonged political deadlock, caused mainly by personal animosity among leaders of the two main blocs”.
For context, scheduled elections took place in April 2021 to form a new government, which had been led by the centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB). Its leader Boyko Borissov has held long terms as Prime Minister between 2009 – 2021. Bulgaria saw “nationwide protests erupted over his government’s role in the country’s rampant corruption”. However, “contrary to protesters’ hopes of a cleanup in public life, the demonstrations triggered a series of elections”.
The April 2021 and subsequent July 2021 snap elections failed to produce a new government. Further elections in November 2021 did produce a coalition government led by the centrist We Continue the Change (PP), with Kiril Petkov as Prime Minister. However, the government collapsed following a vote of no confidence in July 2022, with elections held that October. Again, a coalition government could not be formed after that election. President Rumen Radev called for fresh elections for Sunday, 2 April in January this year.
The protracted political crisis has impacted Bulgaria joining the Eurozone, where it was due to join on 1 January 2024, but this has been delayed by a year. The caretaker government was unable to pass key pieces of legislation through the Narodno sabranie as it was dissolved before they were passed.
Further, the far-right party Revival has collected over 200,000 signatures, half the required number, to hold a national referendum on membership of the euro, in which it will campaign against Bulgaria adopting it.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin entered the general election as the youngest person to hold that office, where her government coalition partners were all led by women. She attracted international attention since taking office, from being outspoken against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to applying for Finland to join NATO in May 2022.
This brought about an end to decades of Finnish policy of neutrality. After independence in December 1917 from the Russian Empire, Finnish foreign and security policy was shaped by its relationship with Russia. A policy of neutrality emerged during the Cold War as a means of a balancing act between both the East and West. After the Cold War, Finnish neutrality grew into a policy of military non-alignment.
Key issues in the general election campaign focused on the high prices of energy and the high inflation, which are both impacting the cost of living, similar to elsewhere in the EU. While Finnish state debt rose during Covid-19, “government borrowing and the sustainability of public finances have become a main theme in this election”. Other issues that featured in the campaign included “the climate and the country’s educational decline”.
Results of the 2023 General Election
The centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who are in an election coalition with Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), won 69 seats, an increase of two from the last election. We Continue The Change (PP) and Democratic Bulgaria (DB) joined to form a centre – centre-left election coalition, and came second with 64 seats, a loss of nine. Due to the closeness of the results, it was reported that Bulgaria is set “for lengthy and difficult coalition talks”.
|Party||April 2021||July 2021||Nov. 2021||Oct. 2022||April 2023||Seat Change||European Parliament Group||Irish Parties in that Group|
|Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB)||75||63||59||67||69||+2||European People’s Party||Fine Gael|
|Union of Democratic Forces (SDS)|
|We Continue The Change (PP)||0||0||67||53||64||-9||Renew Europe||Fianna Fáil|
|Democratic Bulgaria (DB)||27||34||16||20||European People’s Party & Greens–European Free Alliance||Fine Gael, Green Party|
|Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS)||30||29||34||36||36||–||Renew Europe||Fianna Fáil|
|BSP for Bulgaria (BSPzB)||43||36||26||25||23||-2||Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats||Labour Party|
|There Is Such A People (ITN)||51||65||25||0||11||+11||None (‘big tent’)||–|
|Stand Up.BG! We are coming! (IBG-NI)||14||13||0||–||–||–||None (centre-left)||–|
|Bulgarian Rise (BV)||0||0||0||12||0||-12||None (far-right)||–|
The centre-right National Coalition (Kok) won the most seats, 48, an increase of 10 since April 2019. The far-right Finns Party became the second largest party in the Suomen eduskunta with 46 seats, an increase of seven. The party of Prime Minister Sanna Marin, the Social Democratic Party of Finland, came third with 43 seats, an increase of three. Due to the election results, Sanna Marin announced on April 5 that she would step down as leader of the party. The other government coalition partners of the Centre Party, the Green League and the Left Alliance all lost seats, while the Swedish People’s Party did not lose any.
Coalition talks will take place over April and May, with the “most likely scenario” involving the National Coalition entering talks with the Finns Party, for a so-called Blue-Black coalition. “That would pull Finland much further to the right politically than the country has been before.” However, it remains to be seen if enough common ground between the two parties can be found on issues such as immigration, the EU and climate change.
|Party||April 2019||April 2023||Seat Change||European Parliament Group||Irish Parties in that Group|
|National Coalition (Kok)||38||48||+10||European People’s Party||Fine Gael|
|Finns Party||39||46||+7||Identity and Democracy||–|
|Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP)||40||43||+3||Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats||Labour Party|
|Centre Party of Finland||31||23||-8||Renew Europe||Fianna Fáil|
|Green League (VIHR)||20||13||-7||Greens–European Free Alliance||Green Party|
|Left Alliance (vas)||16||11||-5||The Left in the European Parliament – GUE/NGL||Sinn Féin|
|Swedish People’s Party of Finland (SFD)||9||9||–||Renew Europe||Fianna Fáil|
|Christian Democrats (KD)||5||5||–||European People’s Party||Fine Gael|
|Movement Now (Liik)||1||1||–||None (centre-right)||–|
|For Åland||1||1||–||None (Åland party)||–|