Will Bulgaria’s presidential elections lead to early parliamentary elections?

Political parties participating in a coalition government experience give-and-take. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, amid the stoked-up temperature of the presidential election campaign, is claiming that his party GERB is doing all the giving and his government coalition partners all the taking.

The melodramas of recent days around Bulgaria’s November 2016 presidential election have raised the spectre of early parliamentary elections. Such is the drama that President Rossen Plevneliev, who is not standing for re-election after his single term, said on October 16 that he does not want to have to face appointing a caretaker government for a third time.

Much of the blame for the melodrama lies with Borissov himself and with his GERB party.

One reason is that GERB delayed until almost the last minute announcing its presidential candidate, while polls ahead of the announcement of the candidate said that whoever it was, GERB’s pick would win. Since the announcement, however, that seems less certain.

This brings into play Borissov’s repeated statements that should his party’s candidate not place top at the first round of the presidential elections on November 6, he and his government would resign – his most recent statement being slightly more drastic than one a few months ago should the GERB candidate not win the elections (whether at the first round or second, Borissov did not make clear at the time), Borissov would precipitate early parliamentary elections.

At the time, the threat seemed hollow. GERB, according to every poll – reliable or less so – has the most support, by far, among Bulgaria’s electorate. It has the largest financial resources, by far, among Bulgaria’s political parties. The next-largest party, the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, is known to have been undergoing financial woes. So, on paper, it seemed that it should indeed be the case that GERB’s nominee should win.

But that was then. GERB opted, out of a shortlist of four possible presidential candidates, for the one that has the least public popularity among the group, and arguably the least personal charisma and gift for oratory – the Speaker of the National Assembly, Tsetska Tsacheva.

There has not been a poll yet from one of Bulgaria’s few reliable opinion polling agencies, but a left-leaning one said, after the Tsacheva nomination, that the presidential election would go to a second round, with Tsacheva up against BSP candidate Roumen Radev, and that a Radev victory could not be ruled out.

There is one basis for arguing that this scenario is not entirely impossible. There are 21 candidates in Bulgaria’s presidential election. At a second round, and depending on turnout and the level of motivation of voters for rival candidates eliminated at the first round, a case of “all against Tsacheva” could mean serious trouble for her and mostly for GERB and Borissov.

A poor performance, and certainly defeat should that happen, would raise the question whether Borissov would keep to his statement about stepping down in the event of an unfavourable message from the electorate.

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(Photo: boykoborisov.bg)