Bulgaria’s GERB party set to win national vote: Exit polls

Exit polls showed the ruling centre-right GERB will be the largest party in parliament, winning about 25 percent of the vote, down 33.5 percent from the last election.

Bulgaria’s long-serving Prime Minister Boyko Borissov won a national election on Sunday, exit polls showed, and he is now likely to face complex coalition talks to secure another four-year mandate.

Exit polls showed Borissov’s centre-right GERB will be the largest party in the parliament, winning approximately 25 percent of the vote, compared with the 33.5 percent it won four years ago.

After a decade of dominating Bulgarian politics, Borissov has few natural coalition partners in a fragmented legislature, with most groupings rejecting direct cooperation with GERB.

Weeks of talks, or even another election, cannot be ruled out, meaning Bulgaria may have difficulty tapping the EU’s 750-billion-euro ($884bn) Recovery Fund aimed at helping rebuild economies across the bloc after the coronavirus pandemic.

A former firefighter and bodyguard, Borissov, 61, sought to showcase his successes in modernising Bulgaria’s creaking infrastructure in a low-key campaign after massive anti-graft rallies last year eroded his popularity.

Election officials carry a ballot box towards a ward for the treatment of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Pirogov hospital during the parliamentary election in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 4, 2021 [Stoyan Nenov/Reuters]

Reporting from the capital, Sofia, Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith said if the exit polls were borne out it could lead to an “unprecedented situation” with the need for a coalition government.

“It could end up being some sort of limbo period as Bulgarian politicians try to work away through and see if they can establish some sort of government,” he said.

Complicating his coalition-building options is the emergence of the anti-establishment There is Such a People party of popular TV host and singer Slavi Trifonov, which came in second according to a Gallup International poll on 17.1 percent.

A poll by Alpha Research put Trifonov third on 15.2 percent and the opposition Socialists second with 17.6 percent.

Gallup found GERB had won 25 percent, while Alpha research put it slightly higher at 25.7 percent Trifonov, 54, whose concerts peppered with patriotic songs have attracted thousands, has ruled out governing with either GERB or the Socialists.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms party, a traditional kingmaker largely supported by the country’s ethnic Turkish minority, was behind them on about 11 percent, according to the exit polls.

Turnout figures were being keenly watched for any indication that coronavirus infection fears could have kept some voters away, especially among the opposition Socialists’ older electorate. More than 6.7 million Bulgarians are eligible to vote.

The vote is widely seen as a referendum on Borissov to decide if he wins a fresh four-year mandate despite persistent concerns about corruption in the European Union’s poorest member state.

“I have always taken into account what the people decide … let the elections be honest,” Borissov said after casting his vote in the absence of journalists.

“The immense support we received from our counterparts in Europe shows the importance of a stable European government in Bulgaria,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

President Rumen Radev, who supported last year’s anti-government protests and has been a vehement critic of Borissov, said he had “voted against the destruction of the rule of law”.

“These elections are a step towards returning to normality,” he added.

First partial official results, usually expected late Sunday night, might be delayed due to the introduction of machine voting along with the usual ballot paper voting in the majority of big polling stations.

The central electoral committee is due to release the official results by Thursday.

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