Exit polls after voting ended in Bulgaria’s mayoral elections on October 27 2019 showed that it had been a bad day for the country’s ultra-nationalist parties, at least in major cities.
At national level, the “United Patriots” – a fractious cluster of VMRO, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria and Volen Siderov’s Ataka – is the minority partner in government.
But when Bulgarians went to the polls in mayoral elections, the mayoral candidates from the constituent elements of this troubled formation, known more for its infighting and its pernicious messages than anything else, lacked electoral appeal.
In Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia, VMRO MEP and would-be mayor Angel Dzhambazki scraped a poor four to 4.9 per cent. His principal rival in this section of the spectrum, Ataka leader Siderov, mustered all of 1.7 per cent, leaving both as footnotes in a field of 20 candidates. They had spent their time in acrimonious rivalry about which of the two hated “gay parades” more. The city’s electorate, largely, ticked boxes other than theirs.
In Plovdiv, conventional wisdom had been that the mayoral race would go to a second round, between GERB’s Zdravko Dimitrov and Slavcho Atanassov, jointly supported by VMRO and NFSB. It was not to be. Atanassov ran third, behind Dani Kanazireva, mayoral candidate of a local coalition. Atanassov, a former mayor of Plovdiv, is spared a late night on November 3, and the city spared the prospect of an ultra-nationalist mayor.
The best performance among major cities of a candidate with far-right ties was in Varna, at the Black Sea. It was a matter of careful counting whether GERB candidate and incumbent mayor Ivan Portnih had got over the 50+1 threshold or not. If he has not, he will face off next Sunday against the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s Anelia Klisarova. However, at the heels of Klisarova was Kostadin Kostadinov, the candidate of Vuzhrazhdane, formerly associated with Ataka and its ilk. Exit polls gave Klisarova 16.1 per cent; Kostadinov 15.9 per cent; the merest step of a jackboot.
Among other Bulgarian large town and cities, the VMRO candidate in Blagoevgrad got all of 7.4 per cent, in Pleven, fourth place at six per cent, in Veliko Turnovo, 4.9 per cent, in Haskovo a place not high enough to rank in the top four, and in Rousse, a third place, at 16.9 per cent.
Lest anyone who does not like the far-right that much relax too much, there was the claim, yet to be proven by final results, from VMRO elections chief Yulian Angelov. He told Bulgarian National Television that the party would double its number of municipal councillors across the country. VMRO would be among the top three parties in Bulgaria, according to Angelov.
Yet, as the hours ticked by after the close of polls, it seemed clear that Bulgaria’s electorate, at least when it came to who should sit in the mayor’s chair in the larger cities, had made choices other than those of the ultra-nationalist persuasion.