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Bulgarians head to polls for the sixth time in three years

Bulgarians have started voting for the sixth time in three years, with hopes for change likely to be dashed in the Balkan country.

As support for a reformist coalition has plummeted, former prime minister Boyko Borisov’s conservative GERB party appears set to strengthen its position as the major political player in the EU’s poorest member state in Sunday’s election.

Despite massive anti-corruption protests in 2020 that ousted Borisov after nearly a decade in power, GERB is expected to struggle to find coalition partners to govern, with analysts predicting a high likelihood of another snap election in the autumn.

Amid the worst instability since the end of communism, necessary reforms to unlock EU funding and fully integrate into the Schengen area could face further delays, according to Mario Bikarski, a senior Eastern and Central Europe analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

‘At the end of my patience’

The vote is being held alongside EU elections, with similar outcomes expected as reformists have lost significant ground.

Polling stations opened on Sunday at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and will close at 8:00 pm, with low turnout expected due to voter apathy.

“Elections? When are they again?” asked dentist Stefan Dinev, 39. “I have always voted, but I’m at the end of my patience.”

Eve-of-ballot opinion polls show GERB well ahead, with about 25 percent of the vote.

“The state is plunged into chaos… Bulgaria has never been so unstable, nor Europe so insecure,” Borisov, 64, said at a rally in Sofia, referring to the war in Ukraine.

Voters are expected to punish Borisov’s partners in the outgoing government, the liberal reformist PP-DB, for agreeing to work with GERB after accusing Borisov’s past governments of corruption.

The two former rivals agreed to govern on a common pro-EU platform to ensure Bulgaria—traditionally close to Russia—supports Kyiv’s fight against Moscow’s invasion.

However, the fragile partnership collapsed in April after just nine months in power when the parties failed to agree on key judiciary and other reforms.

PP-DB are now projected to garner about 15 percent of the votes, 10 percentage points less than their result in April last year.

‘Strong leader’

According to a recent study by the Open Society Institute, 49 percent of Bulgarians prefer “a strong leader”—an image former firefighter and bodyguard Borisov has long cultivated, even though he does not plan to be premier for another term.

A potential partner for GERB could be the Turkish minority MRF party, which also has around 15 percent support according to the latest polls.

MRF leader Delyan Peevski, a 43-year-old lawmaker and former businessman sanctioned by the United States and Britain for corruption, has expressed readiness to govern during the campaign.

However, analysts believe that having the MRF formally in the cabinet risks provoking protests and could tarnish the country’s image.

On the other hand, a tacit behind-the-scenes partnership between GERB and MRF has existed for years, according to analysts.

Pro-Russian nationalists Vazrazhdane are also polling at 15 percent, with Russian propaganda and disinformation playing a significant role in the vote.

A survey by the Sofia-based think-tank Center for the Study of Democracy found that close to 40 percent of Bulgarians share disinformation, and almost 70 percent believe in conspiracy narratives.

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I am an experienced writer, analyst, and author. My exposure in English journalism spans more than 28 years. In the past, I have been working with daily The Muslim (Lahore Bureau), daily Business Recorder (Lahore/Islamabad Bureaus), Daily Times, Islamabad, daily The Nation (Lahore and Karachi). With daily The Nation, I have served as Resident Editor, Karachi. Since 2009, I have been working as a Freelance Writer/Editor for American organizations.

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