KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM GENERAL ELECTION 2024.0

by Anthony Georgieff

Voting becomes act of emotion rather than reason

As ballot counters concluded the relatively easy task of turning out the record-low number of votes in the 9 June general election, some unpleasant truths emerged. Politicians and analysts of all shades and hues will have to stomach them unless they want to consign themselves to the dustbin of history. Here are the most important ones.

Fears that Bulgaria will get closer to Putin's Russia failed to materialise.

One of the main war cries of the Bulgarian right wing as represented by the CC-DB-DSB, the coalition between Changes Continued of Kiril Petkov and Asen Vasilev, Yes Bulgaria of Hristo Ivanov and Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria of General Atanas Atanasov (which refers to itself collectively as the "democratic community") was that unless Bulgarians voted for them, Bulgaria would inevitably shift towards Putin and his real or imaginary "agents" in this country. The election results indicated otherwise. Vazrazhdane, or Revival, of Kostadin "Kostya Kopeykin" Kostadinov, which is both pro-Russian and anti-European, collectively with the other openly pro-Russian parties got less than one-fifth of the grand total. This can in no way be seen as even mildly threatening Bulgaria's current EU and NATO course.

The BSP, or Bulgarian Socialist Party, is sometimes also seen as pro-Russian, but it is neither anti-democratic, nor anti-European.

Contrary to media allegations ahead of the election that the majority of Bulgarians support Putin's war in Ukraine the election results suggest that whoever tries to promote Russia and Putin in an election platform will lose rather than win.

Bulgarians are not interested in "geopolitical issues."

One of the mainstays of the CC-DB-DSB when they were in power was that anyone else would disrupt Bulgaria's "geopolitical orientation." By this they meant this country's membership of the EU and NATO. Though their hard core of supporters religiously slammed anyone thought of trying to disrupt the "geopolitical orientation," the actual voting patterns show that the overwhelming majority of Bulgarians with voting rights, including about almost a million Bulgarians living abroad, could not care less.

Instead, Bulgarians are interested in their more or less distant history which provides some real or imaginary grounds for boosting national pride. Actual or fanciful battles, medieval kings, fictitious discoveries and inventions by proto-Bulgars and Thracians are in vogue in 2024. Bulgarians seem to take a much livelier interest in the tales of the past than in the news releases by the offices of Ursula von der Leyen and Jens Stoltenberg.

Downturn of the left and right wings.

The disarrayed left wing (the BSP and a variety of leftist parties and associations that include the Left Alliance consisting of ABV of Former President Georgi Parvanov, Tatyana Doncheva and Rumen Petkov; Solidarity Bulgaria of "emerging star" Vanya Grigorova; and other former BSP functionaries including some old-timers belonging to the erstwhile BKP, or Bulgarian Communist Party, made but few ripples at the ballot boxes.

So did the ragtag right wing (apart from the PP-DB-DSB) which consists of groups, alliances and associations like Vili Lilkov's Blue Bulgaria; Dr Petar Moskov's KOD; Nikolay Vasilev and Stanimir Ilchev's NDSV, or Simeon II National Movement; and Valeri Simeonov's NFSB, or National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, which was recently renamed to Conservative Bulgaria.

Collapse of the "democratic community."

The big losers are the CC-DB-DSB alliance. They lost about 50 percent of their supporters. Political scientists and some media who had sympathised with the CC-DB-DSB now try to explain their failure with the fact that whoever was in power, as they had been for about a year would, inevitably lose some support as voters get disgruntled with the discrepancies between promises and actual deeds. But the failure especially of the CC has more complicated roots.

The CC, which was set up in September 2021, won the general election a month later and set up a government headed by Kiril Petkov. That government survived for less than a year as it was voted out through a no-confidence motion. What had made the Kiril Petkov-Asen Vasilev party so appealing to so many voters back in the day was that these Harvard-educated young people had nothing to do with either Boyko Borisov's GERB, an epitome for corruption, and with the DB and DSB of Hristo Ivanov (whose language is barely intelligible to the majority of voters) and General Atanas Atanasov (who seems to still live in 1989) respectively. For some time the CC refused to ally with the DB-DSB, and when they finally did, in 2023, their voters got cold feet.

The downturn intensified when the CC-DB-DSB embraced with the man they had sworn was their chief foe, Boyko Borisov, in 2023. Of course they produced many arguments, some of them quite relevant, for doing so. But what remained in the mouths of their erstwhile supporters was the bad taste of duplicity and unreliability. The result now is a CC hardly capable of standing on its feet.

Emergence of populist extremists.

Against this background it is not difficult to understand that many disenchanted voters, who did turn up at the ballot boxes, cast their ballots for a totally new political entity calling itself Grandeur. Analysts and hacks are yet to provide explanations how a thing like Grandeur is at all possible in a 21st century democracy. It is centred around a theme park in northeastern Bulgaria, calling itself Historical Park, which critics describe as a Ponzi scheme. Its leader, Nikolay Markov, introduces himself as a colonel, though when he was fired from the National Protection Service on disciplinary grounds, in 2007, he was just a lieutenant-colonel. Sporting a huge Christian cross over his T-shirt when he makes public appearances, Markov wants an immediate cessation of Bulgarian aid to Ukraine. In addition, he says the organisation he heads has "informers" at all levels both nationally and internationally, and any information he collects gets "securely" dispatched straight to Moscow for "clarification" and "further instructions." Interestingly, Grandeur's voters are not just simple men in the provinces with little prospects in life and plenty of spare time on their hands. Research shows that the new party's supporters are well-educated middle class people, some with university degrees, who have turned away from both Vazrazhdane and the CC-DB-DSB. Some analysts, half-jokingly, describe Grandeur as a mix between a religious sect of the Branch Davidians model (anyone remember David Koresh?) and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Uneasy path ahead for Borisov.

By about 10 percent Boyko Borisov's GERB remains the biggest party in the 50th National Assembly. Yet, it faces a tough job ahead as it is unable to form a government on its own. It will need at least two partners to do that. Whether it will manage to get them and at what price – and whether any government with Borisov pulling the strings from the wings can survive for a full four-year term, is yet to be seen.

Voting with one's feet.

The record-low voter turnout, just 32.5 percent, was the lowest ever since multiparty elections have been held in post-Communist Bulgaria. This speaks for itself.

Resignation of Hristo Ivanov, Kornelia Ninova.

In the West it has become quite a matter of course for party leaders to resign if they lose elections. Not at all in Bulgaria! Hristo Ivanov of the DB, who did resign in the wake of the 9 June general election, was a rare bird. He explained he will no longer lead the party he founded, nor be an MP.

He was followed by Kornelia Ninova, the leader of the BSP.

In the grand picture of European politics Anno 2024 this is probably a small step. But for Bulgaria, though not unprecedented, it is a huge leap.

Politics as emotion rather than reason.

Bulgaria is not alone in this, but it is a particularly poignant example because despite the protestations of its various rulers in the past 15-20 years it remains the EU's poorest and most corrupt state. Going to the ballots, for a Bulgarian, is an act of emotion not of reason and common sense. Bulgarians may favour one candidate or one party over another for a variety of reasons. It may be because they know someone who knows someone who knows someone in that party – and in Bulgaria it always pays to know people in the inner circle of things. It may also be because a candidate made a "donation" of anything from 20 to 100 leva to whoever voted for them. In some instances Bulgarians, including those who represent themselves as "smart and beautiful" pro-Western intellectuals, follow their leaders uncritically because they fear if they don't they will no longer be considered "smart and beautiful." Ultimately, Bulgarians vote because they are in love. No common sense argument will do a thing to anybody who is in love.

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