SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarians held their fourth national election in less than two years on Sunday, amid deep divisions within the political elite over how to tackle entrenched corruption, raising concerns over a stable government. not much hope.
Amid double-digit inflation and high energy prices, prolonged political turmoil could undermine Bulgaria’s ambitions to join the euro by 2024 and could lead to a softening of Sofia’s stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Voting begins at 7am (0400 GMT) and ends at 8pm (1700 GMT). Exit polls will be released after the vote, with the first partial official results expected in the early hours of Monday.
“I wish there was a government, but it probably won’t happen,” Boris Strandzhev, a 35-year-old programmer, said after the vote. “There are so many disagreements – about how to fight corruption, how to drive the economy and how to deal with Russia.”
Opinion polls suggest as many as eight parties could enter the next parliament, with former long-serving Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s center-right GERB party, 63, leading with around 25-26 percent of the vote.
As last year, Borisov is widely expected to struggle to find coalition partners among his main rivals, who have accused him of allowing corruption to rot during his decade-long rule that ends in 2021.
“I call on my colleagues to come up with a case after tonight,” Borisov told reporters after the vote. “There is a war in the world…it is important for this country to stick to its Euro-Atlantic route”.
Reform Prime Minister Kiril Petkov’s We Continue to Change (PP) party collapsed in June’s coalition cabinet, taking second place in the polls with 16-17%.
Petkov, a 42-year-old Harvard graduate, said Sunday that Bulgarians are choosing between transitional politics marred by endemic corruption and a more transparent Bulgaria that becomes a credible member of the European Union.
Failure to form a functioning cabinet would leave the rule of EU and NATO members to a caretaker government appointed by Russia-friendly President Ruman Radev.
NEW SNAP VOTE OR TECHNOCRAT CABINET
Political parties, aware of the economic risks posed by the war in Ukraine, a difficult winter ahead and voters’ disillusionment with political instability, may set aside their differences and opt for a technocratic government, analysts said.
“Forming a government will be difficult and will require major compromises,” said Daniel Smiroff, a political analyst at the Center for Liberty Strategy.
Support for traditional parties such as Turkey’s National MRF Party and Petkov’s allies, the Socialist Party and Anti-Corruption Democratic Bulgaria, has remained relatively unchanged since the last elections last November.
Petkov’s People’s Party-led government has taken an unusually hawkish stance toward Bulgaria, which has traditionally maintained friendly relations with Moscow. For example, it refused to pay for Gazprom in rubles and saw Gazprom (MCX: ) cut off supplies.
Opinion polls show support for the pro-Russian ultra-nationalist revival movement has more than doubled to about 11-14 percent. Revival is adamantly opposed to the adoption of the euro and wants Bulgaria to leave NATO.
Turnout on Sunday is expected to be low due to public anger over the political infighting.