On November 9 it was improbable that the two candidates in the runoff in Bulgaria’s November 2016 presidential election could get anyone’s attention, given the news from across the Atlantic – the elephant in the room, and the person who had ridden it to shocking victory.
Yet the campaigns for Bulgarian Socialist Party-backed candidate Roumen Radev and his GERB rival Tsetska Tsacheva were trying, in a local Bulgarian political milieu in which one was left to wonder if this would be the week in which separate polls, in countries far apart, that had predicted victory for the woman presidential candidate would twice be proved wrong.
In Bulgaria, running in parallel with the presidential election run-off melodrama was that about the outcome of the national referendum that had been held with the presidential vote first round on November 6.
Central Election Commission official figures showed that the outcome of that referendum had fallen short of the number of votes required to be binding on Parliament. The initiator of the referendum questions has alleged that the CEC rigged the outcome to silence the voice of the electorate. The commission denies this.
In short, that referendum asked three questions – whether voting in elections should be compulsory (by law, it is already), whether to introduce a majoritarian system in electing MPs, and whether to cut state subsidies to a lev per vote in the most recent parliamentary election. While, as noted, the outcome of the vote is not binding, the answer to all three questions among those who voted was a resounding “yes”.
Unquestionably with an eye on the contest that awaits in the second-round presidential election vote on November 13, both GERB and the BSP insisted on November 9 that even though the referendum results were not binding, they would heed “the voice of the people”.
If promises are kept, this means that Bulgaria is set for some fundamental changes within its political system.
In another domestic political spin-off drama, Radan Kanev of the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB) confirmed to reporters on November 9 that his party was out of the Reformist Bloc. This was hardly a surprise to anyone; Kanev’s party has been in opposition since the end of 2015, an anomaly within a five-party coalition that had in November 2014 become part of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s governing coalition.
Yet in the continuing set of anomalies and contradictions that is the Reformist Bloc, it was not immediately clear whether the DSB would remain part of the bloc’s parliamentary group. Local media quoted other MPs in the bloc as saying that it was hardly fair that the DSB should continue to benefit from a share of the bloc’s state subsidy (the one that is to be cut to one lev per vote, if and whenever that happens).
Borissov, meanwhile, said in an interview with local television station bTV that “the fault in this election result of GERB is entirely mine”.
He went on, “I expect that on Sunday, people will assess who is most prepared (to be president). That is Mrs Tsacheva.”
Borissov’s words were a poignant echo of that other election, where the woman candidate’s strongest asset was her readiness for the office of president.
Radev, Borissov said, had got a result on November 6 that was twice that of the support for his party. He said that the first Sunday’s result, in favour of Radev, was a protest vote.
Supporters of GERB had been “provoked” by what the party had done in the past two years to please coalition partners the Patriotic Front and the Reformist Bloc, Borissov said. His party had seethed, but it had acted as he had wanted, he said.
“We lost many doctors, many teachers,” Borissov said. (The health and education portfolios are in the hands of Reformist Bloc members of the Cabinet.) “I supported the decisions of the ministers and I will back them up to the very end.)
“For the first time, we did not seek the highest ratings, did not succumb to populism. We did not look for the most likes. I wanted everyone to stay in the post to which they had been elected. I was wrong and I bear full responsibility,” he said.
Meanwhile, Vesselin Mareshki, the wealthy business person, noted for his cut-price pharmaceutical pharmacy and fuel prices, and who gained fourth place in the field of 21 presidential candidates, told the media: “In five years, I’ll be the Bulgarian Donald Trump”.
Only “manipulation” had stopped him reaching the November 13 run-off, Mareshki said. (Readiness to blame vote-rigging for electoral defeat has a familiar ring to it, yes). But in five years’ time, when Bulgarian next holds presidential elections, he would win, he said. Before then, he would be founding a political party.
November 9 also appeared to confirm that the search by GERB for second-round support from significant other political forces was set to go no further than it had on Monday, when it got the support of the Reformist Bloc’s pro-government leaders. In the morning of Wednesday, GERB campaign chief Tsvetan Tsvetanov was reported to be scheduled to meet the nationalist cluster that is the “United Patriots”. By the afternoon, the United Patriots, an electoral coalition of nationalist and ultra-nationalist parties in Parliament also backed by far-right extra-parliamentary groups, issued a statement saying that it was leaving up to its voters to decide for themselves what to do this coming Sunday.
All that remains for the two major parties remaining in the race is to persuade the electorate. GERB and the BSP have two days, Thursday and Friday to do so. Sunday night after 8pm will see the conclusion to this phase of the presidential election drama. No predictions; electorates can be unpredictable things, sometimes.