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Bulgarians vote for new parliament amid distrust and fatigue

In News, World
June 09, 2024

The snap vote, the sixth in three years, has been triggered by the collapse of a coalition government in March.

Bulgarians have started casting their ballots for their sixth parliamentary election in three years in a vote unlikely to yield a stable government that can end prolonged political instability and unblock economic reforms.

Polls opened at 7am (04:00 GMT) on Sunday and will close at 8pm (17:00 GMT), with exit polls due to be announced immediately after polling stations close. The first partial results are expected at about midnight (21:00 GMT).

The vote for the 247-member National Assembly comes as the country has been plagued by revolving-door governments since anticorruption protests in 2020, with a series of elections producing shaky coalitions that swiftly crumbled.

“This vote is important because Bulgaria hasn’t had a stable government in recent years and the caretaker government has barely been able to keep a coalition together, let alone address issues such as the economic and demographic crisis,” said Al Jazeera’s Um-e-Kulsoom Sharif.

One of the biggest concerns, Sharif added, is the turnout as voters have grown a high degree of mistrust and fatigue towards the political system. The latest opinion polls suggest no party will win a majority, setting the stage for a new round of coalition talks once the votes are in.

“I am voting for a better future,” Antoaneta Hristova, 55, who works in the marketing and PR business, told the Reuters news agency. “But, to be honest I think we are heading into more elections – 7 in 3 years. We have been the laughingstock of Europe for a long time,” she said.

‘Without a stable government’

Bulgaria needs a period of stable, well-functioning government to accelerate the flow of European Union funds into its creaking infrastructure and nudge it towards adopting the euro and fully participating in Europe’s open-border Schengen Area.

Plans to join the eurozone have already been pushed back twice because of missed inflation targets. Accession is currently slated for January 25, 2025.

Failure to form a stable government would raise the risk of further delays, Teneo analysts said in a report last week.

Bulgaria has so far only received 1.4 billion euros ($1.5bn) out of 5.7 billion euros ($6.2bn) in available grants from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), they said.

“Further progress is uncertain as the country is required to implement politically sensitive reforms in the energy sector, which might be more difficult without a stable government,” they added.

Sunday’s vote was triggered by the collapse in March of a coalition comprising the centre-right party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and the reformist party We Continue the Change (PP).

The latest Gallup poll, published on Friday by the BTA news agency, put GERB ahead with 25.9 percent of the vote, followed by three parties in a tight race for second place.

PP, the ultra-nationalist pro-Russian Revival party and the Movement for Rights and Freedom, which mainly represents Bulgaria’s large ethnic Turkish minority, were seen taking 15.7 percent, 15.5 percent and 15.3 percent of the vote respectively.

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