Bulgaria: Polls close in the fourth election in eighteen months

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Bulgaria on Sunday cast its votes for general elections for the fourth time in 18 months amid political and economic instability in the country.

The exit polls ahead of the vote suggest that up to eight parties could muster the 4% threshold to enter a fragmented parliament where populist and pro-Russia groups could increase their representation.

The early election came after a weak coalition led by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. The liberal pro-reform government came to power in late 2021 and was supported by a coalition of two liberal parties, including Petkov’s centrist We Continue the Change (PP) party, the former communist Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the populist ‘There is Such a People (ITN) party’. ITN withdrew its support from the coalition in early June. Petkov’s government lost a vote of no-confidence on June 22 and the coalition crumbled.

He claimed afterwards that Russia had used “hybrid war” scheme to bring his government down after it refused to pay gas bills in roubles and ordered the removal of Russian diplomats from Bulgaria.

Due to the non-payment, Russia’s Gazprom (energy giant) stopped the gas supplies which resulted in a rise in energy prices and inflation rate. Controlling the energy and inflation rates are one of the key issues of this election.

A low turnout favours the former ruling GERB party of three-time former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to come into power in the coalition. Borissov was in power for over a decade until 2021, their time in government was accompanied by political turmoil and corruption scandals. Experts believe that if GERB forms a coalition government it’ll be without Borissov.

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Bulgaria is the most Russia-friendly country within the European Union. While the majority of Bulgarians still have a favourable opinion of the EU and condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine. It provides ground for the aggressive Kremlin propaganda in the country.

The Ukraine-Russia war was among the main topics in this election and calls by the leader of the pro-Russia party Vazrazhdane, Kostadin Kostadinov, for “full neutrality” of Bulgaria in the war, or calls to renegotiate relations with the EU, are attracting many voters. Up to six other groups were expected to enter parliament, including the Socialists and the pro-Russian, nationalist Revival.

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