Anti-government protesters calling for – among other things – snap elections in Bulgaria. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Cheep (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Freedom House Rating
March 28, 2021 (due)
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October 27, 2019
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November 6, 2016
Bulgaria is due to hold parliamentary elections on March 28, 2021, although delays are possible due to COVID-19. Snap elections are also possible amid ongoing protests.
Bulgaria has been in a long stretch of chaotic politics characterized by a series of early elections and caretaker governments, and a number of problems remain. Corruption and scandals have plagued the country since the 1990s. In that vein, the country is currently embroiled in anti-government protests, some violent, which have been going on since July.
Bulgaria’s Political Parties
Bulgaria’s two biggest parties are the governing center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and the main opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). GERB is affiliated with the European People’s Party and the International Democrat Union, while BSP is affiliated with the Party of European Socialists and Socialist International.
GERB has won the last several sets of elections, including the 2017 parliamentary elections and the 2019 European Parliament and local elections. However, the president – elected in 2016 – is Rumen Radev, a former communist who ran as an independent with the support of the BSP. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov of GERB governs in coalition with the nationalist United Patriots (IMRO-BNM), which is affiliated with the European Conservatives and Reforms group. Other parties with seats in parliament include the liberal opposition party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and the nationalist Volya.
Ongoing Anti-Government Protests and Calls for Snap Elections in Bulgaria
The current wave of protests began in July and have the support of Radev, the president. In fact, part of the impetus for the protests was a police raid on the president’s office, combined with a scandal set at a posh beach house. Protesters are calling for the resignation of the Borisov government and the chief prosecutor, followed by early elections. Conversely, Borisov is seeking to change the constitution, and expressed willingness to resign if parliament approves his proposed changes.
The Financial Times’ Kerin Hope and Theo Troev explain: “The protests have highlighted popular anger over pervasive graft in the EU’s poorest member state that observers say reflects collusion by high-ranking officials, shady business groups and senior members of the judiciary.” An August 2020 poll found that a majority – in fact, 60 percent – of Bulgarians support the protests, but only 40 percent say they want snap elections.
The situation continues to develop.
Bulgaria is a member of NATO and the European Union (EU); however, it remains the poorest and most corrupt member of the EU. Russia seeks to influence Bulgaria. While GERB has consistently been in favor of Euro-Atlantic integration, and the BSP has recently been running on a pro-European platform, some political parties are explicitly pro-Kremlin. Radev, the president, is pro-Russia. Moreover, as Andrey Grashkin at the Foreign Policy Research Institute notes: “Moscow has strategically weaponized its energy holdings in Bulgaria through funding anti-fracking movements and disinformation campaigns, allowing Gazprom to maintain its monopoly on gas deliveries, and keeping Sofia vulnerable to future political exploitation.”
Novinite (October 7, 2020): 90 Days of Anti-Government Protests in Bulgaria
Euronews/AP (September 22, 2020): Thousands urge Borissov government to resign in Independence Day protests
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Updated October 8, 2020