Bulgarian Leader Wins Election With Tough Path to Government

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Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s party won Sunday’s general elections, but thorny ties with his political rivals complicated his path to a fourth term as leader of the European Union’s poorest and most corrupt member.

Already one of the EU’s longest-serving leaders, the former bodyguard of the Balkan state’s last communist dictator capitalized on support from conservative voters drawn to his brusque man-of-the-people style. Critics say Borissov has done little to crack down on endemic graft or improve living standards for Bulgaria’s 7 million people.

The main rivals to his Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria party, known as Gerb, have vowed not to cooperate with it -- or each other -- in any governing alliance.

With the route to forming a new government uncertain, Borissov called on his rivals to unite to help Bulgaria combat a resurgence in the coronavirus pandemic, rebuild the economy and prepare to spend billions of euros in EU funds earmarked for the country.

“That’s my offer to everyone,” Borissov said on Facebook hours after voting ended. “Let’s see if we can unite for the good of the country.”

Bulgarian Leader Wins Election With Tough Path to Government

Gerb won 26%, according to partial results with 88% counted. There Is Such a People, a newly formed group led by populist talk-show host Stanislav Trifonov, won 18%. The opposition Socialists were third with 15%. Both reiterated after the first results were released that they won’t support Borissov for a new cabinet. As many as six parties looked poised to enter parliament.

“In such a fragmented parliament, it’ll be very hard” to form a government, Boryana Dimitrova, a managing partner at Alpha Research, told the BNT public TV channel late Sunday. “Either someone will have to cross boundaries and make compromises that were unacceptable until now, or the parliament will have a very short life.”

President Rumen Radev should first invite the winner of the election to attempt to form a government. If that fails, the second-biggest party gets a turn. If that doesn’t work, a third party chosen by the president is given a chance before a new election is called.

When he first took power in 2009, Borissov ruled with Gerb on its own without a parliamentary majority. He cobbled together coalitions for his other two governments with smaller parties that went back on pledges to shun him.

In that time, he has faced scandals, allegations over ties to organized crime, street protests and feuds with the president and some of the country’s richest men. He even resigned twice. The country is currently one of the world’s coronavirus hotspots — and the economy is taking a hit.

State Resources

“The elections were competitive, but massive use of state resources gave the ruling party a significant advantage,” Artur Gerasymov, a leader of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observation mission, said Monday.

Transparency International ranks Bulgaria last in the EU for tackling graft, and the EU has criticized it for failing to uphold the rule of law. Meanwhile, gross domestic product per capita, when adjusted for relative purchasing power, is just over 50% of the EU average.

Still, Borissov has been adept at balancing the nation’s interests between historical ally Russia and the West. He has embraced the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU while former eastern bloc peers Hungary and Poland engage in open conflict with Brussels.

His government also boasts one of the bloc’s lowest debt levels and narrow budget deficits. Borissov campaigned on keeping taxes low, improving the distribution of EU funds and adopting the euro in 2024, a process that, along with joining the EU’s passport-free Schengen travel zone, has been delayed by concerns over graft.

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