Mayoral candidates in Bulgaria’s large cities pursue endorsements ahead of run-off elections

Spare a thought for Mladen Mladenov, Iliya Zyumbilev and Milena Dimitrova. Few else may.

In the October 27 mayoral elections in Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna, respectively, these three got the fewest votes.

In Sofia, among 20 mayoral candidates, Mladenov – the nominee of the National Republican Party – got 428 votes, all of 0.10 per cent of the vote.

In Plovdiv, Zyumbilev placed 14th of 14 mayoral candidates, getting 209 votes, 0.19 per cent.

In Varna, all of 250 voters, 0.25 per cent, thought that Dimitrova should be mayor of the Black Sea city.

These three cities, the largest three in Bulgaria, are heading for second-round elections on November 3 to decide the mayoral races. The contest is on for endorsements from those eliminated at the first round, though for the candidates in Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna, calls to Mladenov, Zyumbilev and Dimitrova may not be the first they make.

In capital city Sofia, vying for the mayoral chair are incumbent and GERB candidate Yordanka Fandukova and independent, socialist-backed Maya Manolova. The October 27 vote produced a lead of about nine points for Fandukova.

Soon after the results became clear, Democratic Bulgaria said that it would endorse neither. Rather unfortunate for Fandukova and Manolova, because an endorsement – should Democratic Bulgaria’s electorate follow its advice – might mean something.

Democratic Bulgaria’s candidate for mayor, Borislav Ignatov, ran a credible third, with 12.2 per cent of the vote. In the Sofia city council elections, Democratic Bulgaria got 14.52 per cent.

Refusal of an endorsement did not deter Fandukova from going to a meeting with Democratic Bulgaria on October 29, from which she was photographed emerging.

In a television interview, she confirmed having met Democratic Bulgaria.

“It was important for me to talk about future projects…there are good ideas in programmes that we can work together on,” she said.

But she said that no agreements had been sought or made. “This is not my style,” Fandukova said. Asked if she had promised any posts, she denied this, saying that she had not indulged in bargaining and nor had the leaders of Democratic Bulgaria set any conditions.

Yordanka Fandukova and Maya Manolova.

Among other parties that gained votes of some significance, ultra-nationalists VMRO (whose mayoral candidate, Angel Dzambazki, described the party’s showing as “not great, not terrible”) was reported to be scheduled to meet Fandukova for talks on October 30. Iskren Vesselinov, deputy leader of VMRO, said that the party would not hold talks with Manolova.

VMRO did not agree with Manolova about the Istanbul convention, he said. But support for Fandukova was not a given, unless she was willing to endorse his party’s policies, he said.

One endorsement that Manolova did pick up in Sofia was that of Dessislava Ivancheva, who said that it had been a “difficult decision” to make.

Ivancheva is a former district mayor of Mladost in Sofia, convicted on corruption charges that she denies, and whose publicly harsh treatment in the course of her arrest and conviction continuously made headlines. In the 2019 Sofia mayoral race, she scored 0.81 per cent of the vote on October 27.

VMRO may be talking to GERB’s Fandukova in Sofia, but in Plovdiv, its allegiance is clear.

In that city, its candidate – jointly backed by the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria – is in a race on November 3 with GERB’s candidate Zdravko Dimitrov.

The VMRO-NFSB candidate, Slavcho Atanassov, is something of a veteran of second-round races in Plovdiv, which on previous occasions he has lost. The October 27 vote saw Atanassov a clear 20 points behind Dimitrov.

Slavcho Atanassov and Zdravko Dimitrov.

But that does not mean anyone should jump to conclusions about what will happen in Plovdiv on Sunday. Four years ago, the GERB candidate, then Ivan Totev, was handsomely ahead at the first round, but the second-round contest came down a narrow margin that led to Totev’s victory having to be confirmed by a court.

In Plovdiv, the Bulgarian Socialist Party was reported to be discussing whether to endorse Dimitrov or Atanassov or neither. Local party strongman Georgi Gergov told Radio Plovdiv on October 30 that he believed that the best choice was neither.

The BSP should not support GERB, a right-wing party, and nor should it support Atanassov, whom Gergov described as “extreme right-wing”.

Dimitrov, meanwhile, told the media in Plovdiv that for the time being, GERB had received support only from its UDF electoral coalition partner, but negotiations with other political groupings were forthcoming.

Everyone is welcome to share our programme and our way of governing,” Dimitrov said.

In Varna, the second round is between incumbent mayor and GERB candidate Ivan Portnih and nationalist Vuzhrazhdane’s Kostadin Kostadinov, the latter having narrowly beat the BSP’s Anelia Klisarova for second place at the first round.

Kostadin Kostadinov and Ivan Portnih.

Portnih previously won election as mayor of Varna at the first round, and blamed low turnout for his having failed to make the threshold for a first-round victory on October 27; he won 49.29 per cent. Kostadinov’s second place, out of the other 10 mayoral candidates, was gained with 14.3 per cent of the vote.

For Portnih, speaking to local media, the key endorsement he seeks is that of voters, expressing hope for a better turnout this coming Sunday. The city council elections in Varna produced a council that will have 11 groups, all but those of GERB and the BSP relatively small. For either candidate, endorsements that will sway the balance are rather improbable, but that would not mean that they would not be welcome.

Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: Factfile



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, 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.