Bulgaria’s election 2013: Who are the losers?

It may not yet be clear which party fairly may be emerging as the winner in Bulgaria’s May 12 2013 national parliamentary elections, but from exit polls it appears reasonably clear which parties have lost.

A few hours after polls closed, most polling agencies said that there would be four parties in the 42nd National Assembly – Boiko Borissov’s GERB, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalists Ataka.

The possibility could not be completely ruled out that final results might propel Meglena Kouneva’s Bulgaria for Citizens over the four per cent threshold for seats in Parliament. But even if it did, the performance of the party of Bulgaria’s first European Commissioner was dismal compared with Kouneva’s initial ambitions.

Kouneva got 14 per cent in the 2011 presidential elections, amid a wide field. It meant first-round elimination but spawned ambitions at the time for the 2013 elections. In 2012, Kouneva said that she was hoping for at least 15 per cent. A range of polls on the night of May 12 accorded her party only about a fifth, a few slightly more, some significantly less, than that.

Of all the contestants – 38 parties, seven coalitions – in the May 2013 elections, Kouneva’s loss, if confirmed by official results, will go down as one of the most significant, especially given the way that Bulgarian-language media treated her campaign so seriously.

Parties and coalitions that were in the 41st National Assembly that seemed certain not to make it in into the 42nd included the former component parties of the centre-right Blue Coalition – the Union of Democratic Forces and Ivan Kostov’s Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria – and Yane Yanev’s Order Law and Justice party.

As to the former Blue Coalition, dramatic events in 2012 made its oblivion seem inevitable. It was a creature of 2009, of the working alliance formed by Kostov and then-UDF leader Martin Dimitrov. Dimitrov fell at the hands of those in his party who opposed the alliance with Kostov. Kostov formerly dominated Bulgarian politics – the “Commander” who had led the UDF of yore, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2001, the man whose reforms after the socialist-led financial and economic disaster of 1996/97 did so much to create the Bulgaria of today, good and bad.

The UDF, in turn, a mere rump of the dominant force it once was, ended up being led by Emil Kabaivanov, a municipal mayor whose lack of national political profile whose election in 2012 as UDF leader resulted only in a further downturn for its fortune. In national approval rating polls, he ranked near-bottom. Polling agencies noted that his position was so low, at best two per cent, because those polled had not heard of him.

Others that in this election appeared destined to hold their place as a small-print footnote in Bulgarian politics included the parties of LIDER, Slavi Binev’s Gorda Bulgaria, former tripartite coalition defence minister Nikola Tsonev’s New Alternative, among others. They got their television time and their place in debates on the public broadcaster, but none of this translated into anything close to the threshold.

Binev, whose career includes being formerly Ataka’s candidate for mayor of Sofia (he was elected to European Parliament on Ataka’s ticket but has since cut all ties to the party), goes down in history as being the first, on the night of May 12, to call for the overturning of the entire parliamentary election as illegitimate.

In turn, the “parties of the protesters” placed nowhere. This is one of the ironies, among many, of the May 2013 elections. It was the national protests in early 2013 that led to elections that would have been held in July being brought forward to May. But those protests were never led or composed of a monolith, and whatever resources some of their leaders could command, it turned out that votes was not among them.

On a final provisional note, the biggest losers may be those Bulgarians who were so strident in the streets about the need for change – change of the political system, positive change to prospects for cost-of-living, a change away from the same old parties. If the polling agencies are correct, they are left, for now, with four of the same old parties making up the next Parliament.

(Photo of Kouneva from her flickr photostream)



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.