Yet new parliamentary elections took place in Bulgaria 6 days ago, after the most recent government stepped down on 23rd July 2014, after just 441 days in office.
Extensive protests have been plaguing the country for more than a year, amid growing dissatisfaction of the population. This was the third election in just the last 2 years – a testament to the incredibly unstable political, economic and social situation. On paper, the stakes were higher than ever before – the fifth government in 18 months would have to address urgent issues in healthcare, social welfare, the economy or the common denominator of all these challenges – corruption.
The bleak results of this important election highlight exactly why the country is in its biggest political crisis since 1989 – and why the situation will not improve anytime soon. The elections had the lowest turnout since overturning the old regime in 1989. Only 50% of eligible adults cast their vote, the lowest percentage in the last 25 years. Obviously, the public is mistrustful of the political class, the institutions, and of representative democracy in general. Such political apathy suggests that people seem to have lost their faith and do not believe that change can be achieved in Bulgaria anymore. As one gloomy anecdote puts it, “a feasible exit from the current situation is at Terminal 2 of Sofia airport”.
Apart from the low turnout, the elections were unique also in terms of the parliament’s make-up – as many as 8 parties entered the parliament. Bulgaria has never had such a dispersed vote, which is a message in itself: the people seem to expect the political parties to go beyond the narrow party divisions and address the country’s problems in a consensual manner.
In that regard, the voters seem to be wiser than the political class – another big problem of Bulgarian politics. Genuinely new, innovative and determined political parties are missing. Some parties have emerged, but they compete more in degree of arrogance, than in creativity of solutions. Usually, the business interests behind them are murky (or overtly mafiotic).
One good example is Bulgaria Without Censorship, which was established in early 2014 and is led by Nikolaj Barekov (an arrogant former journalist). It received 5.3% voting support, but its financing is very unclear. Also, a number of (already!) former party members hint at Barekov’s heavy links with the Bulgarian Mafia. The leader is claiming the opposite, but there are currently 10 court cases against this Member of European Parliament in Bulgarian courts.
Still,fragmentation of the political scene is the biggest problem of these elections. The winner, the right-wing party GERB received only 32.6% of the votes (falling from 40% in the 2009 elections) and cannot form a strong government to push through needed reforms. GERB would have to create a coalition with a large number of smaller parties, as the ideology of the second and third parties in the election differ greatly.
Thus, the country is far from having a stable and committed government, willing and capable to curb corruption and push through desperately needed reforms – or, in other words, address the issues that brought down the previous government and led to yet another elections. Thus, the political and social situations may continue to deteriorate, leaving Bulgaria with an even more vulnerable and uncertain future than before, and diminishing opportunities to turn the country back to a normal.
Overall, the situation is more bleak than ever and there is certainly very little time left for the Bulgarian political class to avoid completely destroying one of the oldest states in Europe.
By Alexander Ivanov