Anti-government protesters calling for – among other things – snap elections in Bulgaria. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Cheep (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Freedom House Rating
April 4, 2021
October or November 2021 (due)
October 2023 (due)
October 27, 2019
March 26, 2017
November 6, 2016
Bulgaria has scheduled parliamentary elections for April 4, 2021. After that, a presidential election is due in October or November 2021.
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 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.
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.
Nonetheless, several polls have found that GERB is in the lead heading into the parliamentary elections. For the first time in its history, GERB has registered to run in coalition with another party, the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), a fellow center-right member of the European People’s Party.
In total, 22 parties and eight coalitions are running in the elections.
Bulgaria is a member of NATO and the European Union (EU); however, it remains the poorest and most corrupt member of the EU. Meanwhile, 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.”
Bulgaria is currently embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with neighboring North Macedonia involving issues of language and history. Last year, it blocked North Macedonia’s EU accession. This comes on the heels of North Macedonia changing its name in order to get Greece to stop blocking its NATO and EU membership. The European Parliament has gotten involved in the dispute, with many MEPs naming Bulgaria as the aggressor. Some believe that tensions could ease following the April 4 elections.
Sandrine Amiel, Euronews (April 1, 2021): Bulgaria’s general election matters for Europeans. Here’s why
AFP (March 31, 2021): Through pandemic and protests, Bulgaria’s Borisov hangs on
Margarita Assenova, Jamestown Foundation (March 31, 2021): Russian espionage scandal in Bulgaria
AFP (March 30, 2021): Virus could raise vote-buying risk in Bulgaria election: report
Asya Metodieva, Visegrad Insight (March 24, 2021): Upcoming elections are unlikely to overcome the crisis in Bulgaria
Milana Nikolova, Emerging Europe (March 22, 2021): Corruption and Covid-19 dominate Bulgaria’s election campaign
Todd Prince, RFE/RL (March 22, 2021): Bulgarian PM challenged By former right-hand man backed by U.S. trucking tycoon
Georgi Gotev, Euractiv (March 10, 2021): Watchdog warns of ‘dire press situation’ ahead of Bulgarian elections
Svetoslav Todorov, Balkan Insight (March 8, 2021): Bulgaria’s Fragmented Opposition Hopes to Ride Wave of Discontent
Svetoslav Todorov, Balkan Insight (February 1, 2021): Bulgarian President Radev Announces Pitch for Second Term
Reuters (January 27, 2021): Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party narrowly leads pre-election opinion poll
Reuters (January 14, 2021): Bulgarians to vote in parliamentary election on April 4
Nina S. Barzachka and Stefka P. Yordanova, Washington Post (December 17, 2021): Why Bulgaria’s government has survived months of anti-corruption protests
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 February 21, 2021