A post-election stalemate has quickly emerged following Slavi Trifonov's There is such a people (TISP) party's insistence on single-handedly nominating the next government and declining any coalition negotiations, even with its potential allies from the so-called protest parties (Democratic Bulgaria and Stand up! Thugs - out! (SUTO).
Despite Mr Trifonov's party only holding 65 seats in parliament - just over a quarter of the total number - he was quick to announce a nominee Prime Minister and cabinet just 15 hours after the final ballots were cast on Sunday. He left no room for negotiations with potential partners, decrying "coalition" as a dirty word and declaring his party's intention to take sole responsibility for governing.
Expert cabinet failed at first hurdle
Needless to say, the cabinet - which Trifonov dubbed "expert", citing the nominees' Western education and professional credentials - was rejected by all other parties. A core objection cited by politicians on all sides was that Nickolay Vassilev, the Prime Minister designate, had a far from pristine reputation. What is more, he had been part of the NDSV party of ex-king Simeon II, which is notorious for helping the ethnic-business party MRF establish a foothold in core Bulgarian political and economic institutions.
After yet another bullying post on Facebook - the preferred communication channel of Mr Trifonov - in which he accused potential allies of "talking lies" about his nominees, he said the party would retract the nomination for a cabinet and propose another solution.
Unfortunately, it seems that the new solution is really more of the same. In a press conference on Friday, two of Mr Trifonov's lieutenants - scriptwriters Todor Yordanov and Filip Stanev - stressed that they would have exclusive say over the composition of a new cabinet, and if the other parties reject it, this would trigger yet another early election.
This makes the situation even more unpredictable. The leaders of protest parties, including Tatyana Doncheva from SUTO and Hristo Ivanov from Democratic Bulgaria, said over the weekend that they still hope that a cabinet of the anti-status quo is possible. But this hinges on TISP's readiness to enter dialogue and agree on a clear-cut political program with potential allies. Mr Trifonov's wish list, expressed in his post-election video, could hardly be described as such a program. And it is questionable how much he and his party are ready to build bridges.
Democratic Bulgaria and SUTO have already ruled out signing any blank checks for TISP and will only back Mr Trifonov's proposals if they include some of their own policies. Democratic Bulgaria wants serious judicial reform, including constitutional changes affecting how the Supreme Judicial Council operates, the removal of Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev and keeping MRF out of positions of power. SUTO wants support for small and medium-sized enterprises, higher pensions and revision of GERB's rule.
Even if they somehow come to terms with each other, the three factions only have 112 votes (121 are needed to approve a potential cabinet) and Mr Trifonov currently remains steadfast about not engaging with the three status-quo parties (MRF, BSP, GERB).
Parliament convenes in a stalemate
All this means that the next Parliament is stalemated even before it is convened on Wednesday by President Rumen Radev. Under his constitutional powers, Mr Radev should give the mandate to the first political force, which would then have a week to try to propose a cabinet, but he is not bound to a specific timeframe to do so. If he sees that there is some goodwill for negotiations on behalf of TISP, he is likely to leave them a few weeks to discuss a program and a cabinet that can gain the support of enough MPs, from the protest parties and beyond.
So far, Mr Trifonov and his party have acted as complete political novices - their moves are rash, poorly calculated, and punch way above their weight. TISP's leader is emulating Mr Borissov, dictating over Facebook, with nobody from the party allowed to speak to outsiders. None of the ministers who got nominated for his expert government spoke to journalists until Friday, when Mr Vassilev was allowed to talk - after his nomination as Prime Minister was withdrawn.
This mode of operation is likely to prove unsustainable, even less in a properly working parliament. The vacuum of leadership of Trifonov's party and its incoherence would quickly become obvious, especially when taking decisions on any legislation that has any concrete purpose at all - other than being "anti-GERB."