Four days after the 4 April elections, many Bulgarians are on an emotional rollercoaster. The ruling party GERB seems to have been floored, but no one is sure what happens next.
There is silence and mistrust in the anti-GERB camp: the socialists, Democratic Bulgaria, showman Slavi Trifonov's "There is such a people" (TISP) and the protest-coalition "Stand up! Out with the Thugs!". No one yet knows who should make the first step and what the others will say. Nor can anyone risk a quick rift with the electorate: voters of the "modern urban right" who chose Democratic Bulgaria see the many votes from abroad supporting TISP as an act of betrayal.
The big loser - Prime Minister Boyko Borissov - attempts to hang on to power by any means possible. He tried appeasement on election night, calling for an expert cabinet behind his party, only to taunt his opponents into forming a coalition as soon as possible on Wednesday. Kornelia Ninova from the Socialist BSP party refused to resign after her faction's disappointing result and even attempted to take the initiative, calling for the creation of an anti-GERB front.
Her message seems to be falling on deaf years. At least for the time being, the two bigger new parties in parliament, TISP and Democratic Bulgaria, reject the possibility of a coalition with BSP as much as they reject accepting any support by GERB.
So here is a little recap of the situation before the start of the new parliamentary season: who gets what according to the final election results and what coalitions are possible.
Who gets what?On 6 April the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) of Bulgaria released the final tally of votes. Although aspects of the count may still be contested, the current distribution of mandates between the six parties that enter parliament is as follows:
He has one month from the day of the vote to convene the National Assembly (until 4 May). Since he has set himself so firmly against Mr Borissov's rule, it is expected that he does this immediately after the names of the new MPs are announced on 11 April.
As Prof. Daniel Valchev, ex-education minister, told the elections studio of Capital.bg and Dnevnik.bg on Sunday, one of the first tests for the new parliament would be the selection of a Speaker. There are no constitutional arrangements for doing this, so it might be the first deadlock. Usually the biggest party nominates one, but this time GERB is in a weak position to get support.
In this first session, another important thing will happen - the government of Mr Borissov will file its resignation. Until a new cabinet is approved by the parliament, however, Mr Borissov and his ministers remain in their current positions and do not become MPs. The opposition can call them for parliamentary questioning during this period, which might become quite interesting now that there is real opposition in Parliament.
There is no formal deadline for the president to assign the first governing mandate. Commenting constitutionalists said the informal rule is that it happens under a "reasonable" timeframe. It seems unlikely that Mr Radev will delay the procedure. It is compulsory, though, that he organizes consultations with all six parties in that period - it is during this process that he is acquainted with the possibility and political will to form a coalition or the potential for a government of the minority.
Immediately after the consultations are over, the President invites the largest political group (GERB) to propose their candidate for Prime Minister. Then he assigns him or her the mandate and the prospective Prime Minister has 7 days to form a cabinet - or admit that they can't. If they fail to get a cabinet approved by at least 121 votes in parliament (half of the MPs +1), the procedure is repeated with the second largest party (TISP). If they also fail to get a cabinet approved by Parliament, the mandate goes to a third party of the President's choosing.
The next (socialist) drama
Bearing in mind that President Radev was nominated by the BSP, it is very likely that the third mandate would go to that party despite it being in a state of free-fall.
At the same time, it is very unlikely that a government could be formed by BSP - it promised not to make a coalition or receive backing by GERB, but both TISP and Democratic Bulgaria said they won't back a BSP government.
On Tuesday, BSP leader Kornelia Ninova tried to seize the initiative by attempting to lead an anti-GERB grouping of Democratic Bulgaria, TISP and SUTO. She proposed that they join forces to stop last-minute government deals of Borissov. The way these three new parties react to the proposal could be a sign of what is to come.
And if all fails...elections "2 in 1?"A failure on behalf of BSP (or another smaller party) to form a government would result in President Radev simultaneously dissolving parliament and appointing a caretaker government that would organize the next elections in two months.
If the consultations remain within the "reasonable timeframe" and all three parties fail to form a government, this would mean an early vote in July. Presidential elections have to happen between 22 October and 22 November. So, unless a special arrangement for an expert government with a limited mandate is arranged by the parties, an early parliamentary vote can't coincide with the Presidential vote.
A "2 in 1" Presidential and early Parliamentary vote would mean that the two parties with the strongest candidates would receive a huge boost. Slavi Trifonov from TISP has already declared his tentative support for Mr Radev. Observers see him winning even more popular support in the event of an early election (concentrating protest vote behind himself), so this scenario might benefit both him and Mr Radev, who has come to embody the opposition to Borissov.
For the time being, however, this is all in the distant future. At this stage, the only real possibility for a short-term resolution of the crisis is if TISP manages to form a government. This is the only realistic scenario if all anti-GERB parties stick to their guns and decide to form an anti-GERB front with limited shared goals (e.g. electoral and judicial reform), and somehow overcome their differences, at least in the short term.
There are mixed signals coming from all sides about such a possibility, and a lot of calculations about likely results in early elections, egos on the line and promises to their voters will have to be taken into account.