Bulgaria faces instability as poll suggests razor-thin win for GERB

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Bulgaria faced prolonged political instability on Monday after a national election appeared to result in a razor-thin victory for the anti-establishment There Is Such a People (ITN) and no clear prospect of forming a government emerged.

In another twist in the closely contested election, the ITN of popular TV talk show host and singer Slavi Trifonov edged ahead of the centre-right GERB party of former prime minister Boyko Borissov, becoming the largest party.

With 98.9% of ballots counted, ITN had won 23.9% of the vote, only just ahead of Borissov’s GERB, with 23.7%.

Given the razor-thin margins, the scales may tip once again before official results are announced on Thursday. But even then Borissov, 62, is unlikely to succeed in forming a functioning coalition, after he failed to do so following an inconclusive parliamentary election in April.

Most political parties refuse to work with the former bodyguard, with many Bulgarians blaming him for allowing pervasive corruption to fester and accusing him of giving tacit support to powerful oligarchs.

On Monday, sharp-tongued but debate-shy Trifonov, 54, announced plans to try to form a minority cabinet, which most political observers said was a risky move that put pressure on his likely partners and was difficult to assess.

Arguing a coalition government could foster backroom deal-making, he laid out his list of priorities and ministers, appealing to small anti-graft Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up! Mafia Out!, which have benefited from mounting anger over corruption, as well as the other parties, to lend him support.

Trifonov said was not interested in being the next prime minister and will nominate Nikolay Vassilev, 51, a former economy and state administration minister and former executive at Lazard Capital Markets for the post.

“It is time that everything happens right in front of your eyes, in parliament. Because this is the moral thing to do,” he said in a live-streamed speech from his small TV channel.

The three protest parties are not expected to secure a parliamentary majority, meaning ITN would need the backing of traditional parties such as the Socialists or the ethnic Turkish MRF party to replace the current interim cabinet.

A third election cannot be ruled out, meaning Bulgaria may face difficulty tapping the European Union’s multi-billion euro coronavirus recovery package or approving its 2022 budget plans.

Photo: Bulgarian former prime minister Boyko Borissov (C), the leader of the GERB party, speaks to members of the media outside a polling station during the country’s parliamentary elections in Sofia, Bulgaria. EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV