Bulgaria to hold election overshadowed by war in Ukraine

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgarians will go to the polls for the fourth time in less than two years in a general election overshadowed this time by the war in Ukraine, rising energy costs and galloping inflation.

Pollsters expect that voters’ fatigue and disillusionment with the political system will result in low turnout and a fragmented parliament where populist and pro-Russia groups could increase their representation.

The early election comes after a coalition led by pro-Western Prime Minister Kiril Petkov lost a no-confidence vote in June. He claimed that Moscow used “hybrid war” tactics to bring down his government after it refused to pay gas bills in rubles and ordered the expulsion of 70 Russian diplomatic staff from Bulgaria.

The latest opinion polls suggest that up to seven parties could pass the 4% threshold to enter parliament in a contested vote on Sunday.

Despite a decrease in support for the GERB party of ex-Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in previous elections, it is tipped now to finish first. Analysts explain that the shift is likely because of voters’ reluctance to accept change in times of crises and a preference to chose a party they are familiar with.

Parvan Simeonov, a Sofia-based political analyst for Gallup International, said that the war in Ukraine has a strong influence on this election.

“While at previous polls the division was for and against the model of governance of the last 10 years personified by GERB and Boyko Borissov, the main issues now are stabilization, keeping prices low and dealing with the consequences of the war,” Simeonov told The Associated Press.

“The main division in the country now is between East and West on the political map, rather than between status quo and change,” he added.

Still, the predicted percentage won't be enough for Borissov’s party to form a one-party government, and the chances for a GERB-led coalition are slim as it is blamed for corruption by almost all other opponents.

A recent Gallup International survey ranked GERB first with 25.9%, followed by its main rival — Petkov’s We Continue the Change party with 19.2%.

Borissov, addressing party activists at the last campaign event in Sofia, was positive that GERB would score a convincing victory.

“That’s the only solution for Bulgaria. We have the rare chance to have a stable government,” said the 63-year-old ex-premier, who is vying for a fourth term in office.

His main rival, Kiril Petkov, is also confident that Sunday’s vote will yield positive results for his party.

“I certainly expect us to be the first political power. The goal is to have a majority in the next parliament together with the other two parties — Democratic Bulgaria and the Socialist Party,” he told the AP.

The war in Ukraine was among the main topics in the campaign and calls by the leader of the pro-Russia party Vazrazhdane, Kostadin Kostadinov, for “full neutrality” of Bulgaria in this war are attracting many voters as latest opinion polls predict that the group would gain 11.3% of the votes, up from 4.9% at the previous election.

Deep conflicts between the main parties make it almost impossible to form a viable coalition government, which would prolong the political impasse and add more economic woes in the poorest European Union member country.

Simeonov sees a possible solution in forming a Cabinet of experts with a limited term.

“The other possible option would be no government and go to new elections,” he said.