Bulgaria’s GERB widens gap despite nationwide protests – poll

Bulgarian centre-right party GERB, in government until February, when prime minister Boiko Borissov resigned following large nationwide protests, widened the gap over its main rival, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), a poll by Alpha Research showed on April 1.

Borissov resigned on February 21, the day after several protesters were injured in clashes with police, but stayed in office on an interim basis until the appointment of a caretaker Cabinet on March 13. The resignation, and ensuing refusal of other parties to form a government, also brought forward the parliamentary elections scheduled for summer, which will now be held on May 12.

The protests, which opposition parties invoked as a sign of GERB’s failure in government, did not appear to impact the party’s approval ratings, going by the Alpha Research data – GERB’s support improved by one percentage point to 21.9 per cent, compared to a similar poll from January, while the socialists dropped 1.1 points to 17.4 per cent.

“Borissov’s resignation led to the consolidation of GERB supporters and increased mobilisation to vote,” Alpha Research said. BSP, for its part, failed to convert social unrest into votes – the party successfully mobilised its traditional support base, but did not attract new voters, the polling agency said.

The party’s stated intention to increase taxes if in government was turning away higher-income, centrist-leaning voters, while lower-income voters appeared either not interested in elections or leaning towards “new protest parties,” Alpha Research said.

In total, 14 per cent of the poll’s respondents, mainly among the young and more radically-minded, said that they were prepared to support a potential protest party – a group of leaders of one of the main protest groups recently announced that they would field a party in the May 12 elections.

“At this stage, the lavish social promises of nationalistic parties are those that attract the protest vote. The biggest question of the electoral campaign remains whether [the protest vote] will continue boosting them or migrate partially towards new political subjects,” Alpha Research said.

Unquestionably, ultra-nationalists Ataka has been revived from political near-death by national disgruntlement, its support jumping from 1.9 per cent in January to 5.5 per cent in March, overtaking the predominantly ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (one of Ataka’s frequent bashing targets), which registered 4.8 per cent support.

Former European Commissioner Meglena Kouneva’s party, Bulgaria for Citizens, saw its support drop from 5.6 per cent to 3.9 per cent, just below the four per cent election threshold. Alpha Research said that it gave Kouneva a strong chance of making Parliament, but the party’s success hinged on how it conducted its election campaign.

If elections were held now, with an estimated turnout of 55-57 per cent, GERB could get as many as 35-38 per cent of the votes, followed by BSP in second with about 30 per cent. Ataka and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms would get about 10 per cent each and Kouneva’s party would receive between four per cent and five per cent.

“Unlike in previous elections, when there was a wave of hope towards new parties and the campaign itself did not play a decisive role, this time it will determine the final results of both big and small parties,” Alpha Research said.

The poll was carried out on a representative sample of 1050 people on March 22-27 and was not contracted by any party, the agency said.

(Bulgarian Parliament. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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The Sofia Globe staff

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