Never mind the official campaign period beginning on October 6, candidates in Bulgaria’s 2016 presidential election race are already on the campaign trail – minus the candidate of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, to be announced on October 2.
It is difficult to pinpoint when the unofficial campaigning began for Bulgaria’s November 2016 presidential elections, given that several of the country’s politicians, notably including Borissov himself, hardly ever seem to get out of election campaign mode.
Almost every weekend, Borissov’s Facebook page seems to be feature the PM and GERB leader present at the opening of something or another – a kindergarten, a chapel – in some Bulgarian town somewhere, with the accompanying album featuring him posing for a succession of selfies with beaming locals.
Borissov has not been ruled out as his party’s candidate. On September 30, GERB deputy leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov said in a television interview that the “99.9 per cent” most probable candidates in the presidential election were National Assembly Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova, Bourgas mayor Dimitar Nikolov and Deputy Prime Minister in charge of EU funds Tomislav Donchev.
Later the same day, speaking to journalists in Parliament, Tsvetanov said that Borissov had refused to be the presidential candidate, but added that there was a “one per cent possibility” that the party’s candidate could be changed before Sunday. The brochures with the GERB presidential and vice-presidential candidates already had been printed, Tsvetanov said.
As the best-resourced party in the country, and going by all opinion polls, the one with the most support, GERB may be expected to see its candidate heading for victory, either at the first or second round.
Should no candidate emerge with 50+1 of the share of ballots cast on November 6, a second round will be held on November 13.
By delaying the announcement of its candidate, GERB has given the smaller parties a head start, though it does not seem to be bothered by that. On the other hand, it has given its rivals less time to wage a negative campaign against whoever GERB’s candidate will be.
Apart from GERB, the candidates of all parliamentary groups are known, and have been hitting the campaign trail, as have candidates from parties with no seats in Parliament.
Tatyana Doncheva, the candidate of Movement 21 and the National Movement for Stability and Progress – neither party has seats in the National Assembly – was due in Varna on September 30, meeting local party loyalists and, among other things, visiting a social tearoom.
Iliyana Yotova, the Bulgarian Socialist Party MEP who is the vice-presidential candidate on the ticket of Roumen Radev – officially, the nominee of an “initiative committee” though in effect the BSP presidential candidate – was to be in the town of Shoumen and surrounds, visiting a marketplace and calling in on pensioners, among other things.
Radev himself has been on the march in various parts of the country. In the town of Yambol, he told a crowd that included retired military and party loyalists that only he and Yotova could be, as he put it, a “corrective” to the current government.
He complained about polls showing that the GERB candidate would be in the lead in the elections, even though the public did not know who the candidate was. “This is the theatre of the absurd,” Radev said.
A few days earlier, the Reformist Bloc’s presidential candidate, Traicho Traikov, accompanied by vice-presidential candidate Subi Subev, held an event to announce his campaign slogan, “The Strength to be Free”.
If elected, he would be a free and strong President, Traikov said, pledging not only to defend “national security and the security of the nation” but also to fight for the dignity of the country internationally, the stability of the Bulgarian economy and against poverty, not to remain silent in the face of the powers-that-be and to use the authority of the President to establish policies for the benefit of the people.
It remains to be seen what the issues in Bulgaria’s 2016 presidential election will be. It is not uncommon for campaign issues to include those over which the President has no say, such as matters which are in the purview of the executive branch of government but not that of the head of state, a largely ceremonial post – though one that does include being commander-in-chief, the official appointer of diplomats and which carries a limited power of veto over legislation.