If you ever had any doubt that Bulgaria is a unique political space (this is after all, the first country to elect a former monarch as a Prime Minister), the results of Sunday's Parliamentary vote ought to have dispelled it completely. In the third vote for National Assembly this year, Bulgaria will most likely have a third winner - We Continue the Change (WCC) of former caretaker ministers Assen Vassilev and Kiril Petkov.
The reformist, anti-corruption faction was created less than two months ago, in mid-September, and is the second new party to enter parliament straight from top spot. The irony is that the last one to achieve that was GERB 12 years ago - the now universally toxic ex-ruling party.
The turbulence in the country has its dark side, however: wildly pro-Russian, antivax radicals from the Vazrazhdane ("Revival") party of Kostadin Kostadinov look to be passing the 4 percent barrier for the first time. Coupled with the record-low turnout rate, which beats the already low 42 percent turnover of the July elections, this is a sign that Bulgarian democracy, party politics and especially parliamentarism, are going through a rather rough period.
On the Presidential front, unsurprisingly, incumbent candidate Rumen Radev has won the first round with almost 50 percent of the vote, according to all exit polls. Yet, due to the low turnout, he will have to face GERB-backed Sofia University rector Anastas Gerdjikov in round two next Sunday.
The results of the vote: new winnersThere will be several big changes in Parliament after the Sunday vote: as Vazrazhdane is poised to enter, it will be even more fragmented than before, with seven parties represented, compared to six in the previous two Parliaments.
The winners and the losers are also quite different from the previous two. The brand new party of Mr Vassilev and Mr Petkov swept over a quarter of the vote and, with the expected votes from abroad, is likely to win against ex-Prime Minister Boyko Borissov's GERB party. Exit polls claimed that the latter also commanded around 25 percent of the vote, but early official results as of Monday morning show a much lower score of 20.4 percent for GERB.
WCC consists of fresh young faces, mostly people from the business and entrepreneurial ecosystem of Sofia and the big cities, and was the most active campaigner over the last relatively lacklustre two months. The scandal involving Mr Petkov's anti-constitutional appointment, on account of him holding a double Canadian-Bulgarian citizenship, did not harm their result, after all. If you missed our story about WCC, check it out for a more in-depth look of who they are and what they are fighting for.
The second big winner is Vazrazhdane
The radical party of Mr Kostadinov (who also ran for Head of State, winning around 4 percent of the vote) is poised to pass the 4-percent barrier for the first time. Several notable positions define the new party, which now dominates the far-right space: it is anti-NATO, anti-EU, anti-Euro and dismisses the Covid-19 pandemic, calling it a "plan-demic".
A conspiracy theorist's wet dream, Vazrazhdane capitalized on the weakening of all old patriotic players like VMRO, TISP and Ataka, and monopolized the political capital from the pandemic deniers. Its advent should not be surprising - the party has been slowly, but gradually, cementing its position over the past decade, building regional structures across Bulgaria and the EU, and a cohort of fervent supporters.
Vazrazhdane's intentions in terms of mainstream politics, and how it will perform its role, remain a mystery. The party stipulated one condition to back a potential new government - it must repeal all current Covid restrictions. But its (likely) 11 MPs might be crucial in certain scenarios.
The big (and medium) losers
The three "protest" parties suffered from WCC's rise. Undoubtedly, the biggest loser is showman Slavi Trifonov's TISP faction. From winning the July vote, it has collapsed to (likely) fifth place. In terms of proportion of the vote, this is almost a 15 percent slump from 24 percent on 11 July to less than 10 percent now.
The party was punished for a series of mishaps over the past couple of months and for basically achieving nothing with its win. It proposed a supposedly "expert" cabinet without discussing it with the other factions that were supposed to back it, and viciously attacked its "natural allies" from Democratic Bulgaria (DemBG) and Stand up Bulgaria for their refusal to sign a blank check. Then it supposedly caved in to demands to eliminate several controversial figures from the proposed cabinet, only to exchange them for problematic people (i.e. plagiat lawyer Petar Iliev) or complete unknowns.
The other big loser is ex-Ombudsman Maya Manolova's Stand Up Bulgaria - one of the coalitions claiming to represent part of the 2020 protesters. The faction caused some turmoil with its parliamentary investigations of GERB's mishaps, but the rise of WCC and the failure of the past two parliaments to produce a government likely diminished its already limited popularity.
Last, but not least, comes DemBG. The coalition suffered from the same maladies mentioned above - the rising popularity of WCC that sucked its support and the stigma of being part of the previous, failed parliament. Additionally, internal party squabbles, exacerbated by a public scandal between DemBG-backed presidential candidate Lozan Panov and the movement just days before the vote, likely contributed to the bad result. The party is still in a good spot, however, as WCC sees it as its natural reformist ally.
And the status quo
Lastly, the three "old" parties in Parliament - GERB, BSP and MRF - accepted as the status quo in Bulgarian politics - have rather diverging fates.
The Socialist party continues its freefall - after slipping to third in the last elections, now it looks poised to end forth. This is due to WCC but probably also to the pandemic which affected the turnout. Yet of the three parties, BSP is best positioned to enter government.
Despite rumors of a grand tripartite coalition, high-ranking members of BSP reiterated they see themselves as "part of the change movement" and won't support a GERB-led cabinet. Yet this will also not be easy. The Socialists remain quite reserved towards WCC, which they see as a competitor for President Radev's attention. BSP is also allergic to the old anti-communists from DemBG, so supporting a coalition with those two might not be easy to achieve.
What about GERB and MRF? The two would likely have around 90-95 MPs, which is far lower than the 121-MP threshold to form a cabinet. At least nominally, the parties remain pariahs and nobody wants to work with them. MRF was doubling down on its position as an enemy of change by choosing to bet on Magnitsky-sanctioned Delyan Peevski as an MP. This might have proved useful in mobilizing its own electorate and pulling them ahead of BSP, yet for this to be monetized they have to be able to work with someone and no one wants to touch them.
On the other hand, this is likely GERB's last chance to keep the status quo it has built in the past 12 years intact and they will likely not spare any efforts or resources to do so. Question is - would they even have a chance to try, if WCC takes the first mandate and succeeds in pushing through a coalition? The next few weeks will be key.
The results of the first round of the Presidential vote show that the current Head of State is clearly winning. According to the Constitution, however, there are two conditions for the election of a winner in the first round: more than half of the electorate (about 3.35 million people) must have voted and one of the candidates must have received more than 50 percent of the votes. If either condition is not met (as in the case with the extremely low turnout on Sunday), a run-off election on 21 November must follow. Mr Radev will face GERB-backed academic Anastas Gerdjikov in the second round, and is very likely to win it convincingly, if current trends persist.