Bulgaria’s 2023 mayoral elections: GERB wins most major cities, but loses Varna

Former Bulgarian prime minister Boiko Borissov’s party GERB won a number of the mayoral elections cities serving as the administrative centres of districts, but saw its presence in local government diminished in the 2023 local elections in Bulgaria.

In addition to the capital city of Sofia, where it governed for the past 18 years but saw its candidate Anton Hekimyan fail to make the run-off, GERB also lost the run-off in the Black Sea city of Varna, according to Central Election Commission (CEC) data.

With all ballots counted, GERB’s incumbent mayor Ivan Portnih received 41.5 per cent of the vote, losing to We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria (WCC-DB) candidate Blagomir Kotsev, who was elected with 53.1 per cent of the vote. The remaining 5.4 per cent used the “I support no one” option on their ballots.

GERB held on to Bulgaria’s second city of Plovdiv, however, where its candidate Kostadin Dimitrov won with 54.1 per cent of the vote, ahead of WCC-DB’s nominee Ivailo Staribratov, who had 41.7 per cent. A total of 4.2 per cent opted to support neither candidate.

In the 19 cities serving as the administrative centres of districts that held mayoral run-offs on November 5, GERB won seven contests – Plovdiv, Veliko Turnovo (Daniel Panov with 53.2 per cent), Gabrovo (Tanya Hristova with 66.6 per cent), Pleven (Valentin Hristov with 63.6 per cent), Sliven (Stefan Radev with 59.3 per cent), Smolyan (Nikolai Melemov with 48.6 per cent) and Haskovo (Stanislav Dechev with 60.4 per cent).

Borissov’s party also won four mayoral seats in district cities in the first round on October 29 – Dimitar Nikolov in Bourgas, Kalin Kamenov in Vratsa, Zhivko Todorov in Stara Zagora and Darin Dimitrov in Turgovishte.

In three other district cities GERB did not put forth its own candidates, opting instead to back incumbents – Zlatko Zhivkov in Montana, Stanislav Vladimirov in Pernik and Valentin Revanski in Yambol – nominated by other parties or local coalitions, who won in the first round.

WCC-DB, which has an uneasy ‘non-coalition’ with GERB at national level to back the Nikolai Denkov Cabinet, won the mayoral run-offs in Blagoevgrad (Metodi Baikushev with 50.2 per cent) and Pazardzhik (Petar Kulenski with 53.9 per cent), in addition to its victories in Sofia and Varna.

Opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) won two run-offs – incumbent Pencho Milkov in Rousse with 63 per cent and Hristo Hristov in Shoumen with 71.4 per cent.

Additionally, BSP did not put forth nominees in Razgrad and Silistra, opting instead to back independent candidates Dobrin Dobrev and Alexander Sabanov, respectively. Dobrev won the run-off with 54 per cent and Sabanov was elected with 56.2 per cent.

Of the five other district cities in Bulgaria, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms’ (MRF) Erol Myumyun won the mayoral election in Kurdzhali in the first round.

In the remaining four cities, the winners were: incumbent Tsvetan Tsenkov (Union of Democratic Forces) in Vidin with 57.3 per cent, incumbent Yordan Yordanov (back by a local coalition of centre-right parties) in Dobrich with 50.7 per cent, Stratsimir Petkov (nominated by cable TV presenter Slavi Trifonov’s ITN) in Lovech with 51.8 per cent and Ognyan Atanassov (Greens) with 68.6 per cent. All four defeated GERB nominees in their respective run-offs.

(Photo: Screengrab of voting machine via Bulgarian National Television)

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