As the eve of the second round of Bulgaria’s presidential election approached, the results of all opinion polls made public in the final 24 hours of the campaign predicted a lead of 10 points or more for Roumen Radev, the candidate backed by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party.
If the polls released on November 10 and 11 are borne out by the vote on Sunday, GERB candidate Tsetska Tsacheva faces defeat – and all eyes will turn to Prime Minister and GERB party leader Boiko Borissov and his pledge that his government would resign if Tsacheva loses the run-off.
But before anticipating the outcomes of the November 13 election, bear in mind that before the November 6 first-round presidential election, every major poll released was wrong.
Before the first round, a number of agencies foresaw Tsacheva getting the most votes, out of the then-21 candidates, and Radev running second.
BBSS Gallup said it would be 20.2 per cent Tsacheva and 16.3 per cent Radev. Mediana said 25 per cent – 18 per cent. Market Links, 19.4 per cent – 18.1 per cent. Exacta gave the widest margin: Tsacheva 27.9 per cent, Radev 22.4 per cent.
Alpha Research, before the first round, said 26.3 per cent for Tsacheva and 22.5 per cent for Radev.
But according to the final tally by Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission, the result of the November 6 vote was Radev first with 25.44 per cent and Tsacheva second with 21.96 per cent.
Bulgaria is not out of line with a popular topic of conversation around the world, opinion pollsters getting it wrong.
For all that, Radev appeared on the path to victory. He has both more significant second-round endorsements and indications that the electorate of those vanquished at the first round will back Radev in the second.
Even in the second and final debate between Tsacheva and Radev, broadcast live on Bulgarian National Television on the night of November 10, about 60 per cent BNT viewers voted afterwards to say Radev had won the debate. About 33 per cent said Tsacheva did. Six per cent or so said that neither had. But the experience of recent months suggests that TV polls need not necessarily be regarded as bankable either.
On November 11, Alpha Research (the full story about their poll is elsewhere on sofiaglobe.com, along with all our coverage so far of these November 2016 elections) noted that there were still a significant number of undecideds, and they added that some of those who had said that they were opting for the “I don’t support anyone” box might shift to one candidate or another.
It should all become clear after polls close on November 13 at 8pm. The first exit polls will be released in the moments after that point. And by the way, those exit polls, last Sunday, were reasonably accurate in respect of the final numbers confirmed by the Central Election Commission. In other words, unless the race is too close to call on Sunday, the numbers you will see after polls close will be set to determine Bulgaria’s immediate political future.
Borissov referred directly to this in an interview with Nova Televizia on the morning of November 11. The vote in the presidential elections would determine whether his government remained in office or not, he said.
He insisted that the debate on BNT the night before had shown that Tsacheva was the better candidate. “In every respect, she excels,” Borissov said.
Tsacheva was better prepared, he said. She had wiped the floor with Radev, according to Borissov
The common, if slightly inaccurate, quotation from Mandy Rice-Davies in 1963 came once again to mind: “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”
Borissov, who – not for the first time this week – said that the fault for Tsacheva’s first-round result lay with him, said: “If Roumen Radev becomes President, there’s no way he’s work with me, because we have dignity”.
Asked why he had tied the fate of his government to the outcome of the presidential elections, Borissov said that it was a matter of morality.
BSP leader Kornelia Ninova, in a breakfast television interview with BNT, underlined that it was her party that was the main one behind Radev.
“We achieved full mobilisation, even though at first there were reservations about him, because not all members of the party knew him,” Ninova said.
She said that people who were not BSP members had voted for Radev, “and even people from GERB, from other parties”.
“He with his qualities contributed to this result. This is the result of our joint work,” Ninova said.
Meanwhile, November 11 saw the four parties remaining in the Reformist Bloc after the formal departure of Radan Kanev’s Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria sign an agreement stating their determination to carry on together “irrespective of all cataclysms”.
The DSB had been invited to attend the meeting but did not, Union of Democratic Forces leader Bozhidar Lukarski told journalists.
Kanev’s DSB has been in opposition to the Borissov government since December 2015, after Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov resigned from the Cabinet in frustration at what he saw as the inadequate form of constitutional amendments, billed as furthering judicial reform, that Parliament had approved.
On November 11, Kanev was elsewhere, issuing an ultimatum to Borissov. Should Borissov resign by noon on November 13 (notably, a point in time at which polls already would have been open for five hours), Kanev would endorse Tsacheva.
For now, Kanev was telling his party’s members to vote their conscience on Sunday.
Given that exit polls after last Sunday’s vote showed that numbers of Bulgarians voted for a candidate other than that of the party they ordinarily support, it is not certain what effect calls by party leaders can have. Bulgarian voters do not necessarily heed the messages of their politicians – and for that matter the reverse also applies.
Sunday or the days immediately thereafter will see how Borissov, who has turned the election of a Bulgarian head of state into a referendum on his government, precipitating a drama out of proportion to the purpose of the presidential election, will respond to the message he gets.