KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM BULGARIAN 2-IN-1 ELECTIONS

by Anthony Georgieff

Voting for parliament, president produces unexpected results 

As the dust settles down after Bulgaria's third attempt in a year to elect a government and as the post-election horse-trading begins, there are several key conclusions to be drawn from Boyko Borisov's dramatic downfall and the emergence of the Changes Continued political party.

Polling agencies are not to be trusted.

Polling agencies in Bulgaria do not work the way their Western counterparts do. Anyone, including political parties, can commission an agency to do a poll for them. The results, logically, reflect what that individual, entity or political party would like to tell their customers, supporters or voters. This has been going on for many years, but the discrepancy between the pollsters' predictions and what happened at the actual ballot boxes at the 14 November general election was dramatic. From a pollster standpoint it was not even a rogue election. The results had nothing to do with the mantras disseminated in the media ahead of voting day. None of the pollsters could foresee Changes Continued emerge as the largest party in the Bulgarian parliament. None could imagine Democratic Bulgaria, or DB, and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, or BSP, lose so many of their supporters. And none, not even in their wildest imagination, could predict the Turkish-dominated DPS, or Movement for Rights and Freedoms, would garner so much support that it would become the third largest party in the 47th National Assembly.

Anti-Communism is irrelevant.

The anti-Communist rhetoric of Boyko Borisov, himself a former member of the pre-1989 Bulgarian Communist Party, amplified by the rallying calls of the DB are a historical anachronism. Obviously, Bulgarian voters have realised they now live in 2021, not in 1991. The Warsaw Pact no longer exist. Neither does the BKP and its politburo. Neither do the secret police of the Communist era. Voters in 2021 clearly indicated at the ballot boxes that they no longer needed a Boyko Borisov to "protect them from Communism," and even less so so DB, who had been promising they would outperform Boyko Borisov in chasing down whenever Communists remained alive. Perhaps Bulgarians have finally come to the realisation that a return to 1989 is impossible because 1/ The Soviet Union is gone; 2/ Bulgaria is now a member of the EU and NATO; and 3/ No one can or indeed wants to turn the clock back.

Any war cries to the contrary are designed to stir up emotion rather than translate into action.

Negativity does not work. Neither does over-vilifying opponents.

With the notable exception of Changes Continued and perhaps a few others, everyone else put their bets on negative messages and mudslinging. "We will never talk with the GERB or the DPS," the DB intoned. Well, the DPS scored a lot higher than the DB. "Never an alliance with the former Communists," the DB continued. Like it or not, the DB now has to sit down, talk and possibly rule in a coalition with the party it has represented as its archenemy.

Negative vibes and over-vilifying opponents does not work on the personal level either. Hristo Ivanov, the outgoing leader of the DB, was particularly vitriolic about Delyan Peevski, the oligarch who was recently named as being sanctioned under the US Magnitsky Act. While employing a major US law firm to contest the US government's decision Peevski also stood for parliament. Ironically, at the ballot box he defeated Hristo Ivanov, his sworn mortal foe, in the Veliko Tarnovo constituency.

Perhaps the best (or worst) example how negativity does not work was provided by Lozan Panov, the judge who stood for president and was supported by the DB. Throughout his campaign his messages were exclusively negative. Panov was so incongruous and did so badly that even the people who had put out his nomination, including his publicist Ivet Dobromirova, publicly disowned him once the election results rolled in.

On the opposite side of the pole were beaming Kiril Petkov and Asen Vasilev, the leaders of the Changes Continued political party. They came on with a big smile – and easily grabbed the hearts and minds of the majority of voters.

Bulgarians abroad are as unpredictable as Bulgarians in Bulgaria.

Through 2021 one of the major issues was to get Bulgarians living outside Bulgaria to vote. Slavi Trifonov's There Is Such a People party and Democratic Bulgaria were particularly active. Slavi thought that his charisma would get the people who bought tickets for his concerts in Chicago and London to cast their ballots for him as well. The DB, who infamously consider themselves "smart and beautiful," surmised many Bulgarians would follow them because living abroad had also made them smart and beautiful. Slavi was right. His huge success in the July 2021 election was made possible by the Bulgarians in Chicago and London – much to the chagrin of Hristo Ivanov and his "smart and beautiful" retinue.

November 2021 was different. The biggest winner abroad was... the DPS, the Turkish-dominated party everyone loves to hate. Whether the DPS has provided enough reason to be so universally loathed is beside the point. What matters is that the majority of non-resident Bulgarian citizens with voting rights are not "smart and beautiful," nor have they been to Harvard or Oxford. Many of the Bulgarians abroad are of Turkish origin. Their parents were expelled by the Communist regime out of Bulgaria in the summer of 1989. They vote overwhelmingly for the DPS. Verbally attacking the DPS leads only to their consolidation. Hence, the DPS emerged as the third largest party in the National Assembly.

Leaders who lose elections big time must resign.

This is something quite novel in Bulgarian politics. In the past 30 years political leaders who lost elections rarely resigned. They continued on, often incurring new losses for their parties. Now the leaderships of the DB, of the BSP and even of the extreme nationalist VMRO, or Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, resigned. In this way they indicated their personal responsibility for the losses their parties suffered and even attracted the sympathy of friends and foes. This may be the first time post-1989 when political responsibility and personal valour have manifested themselves in actions, not just words. In itself, the development marks a breaking point in Bulgarian politics.

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