Change Continues – Bulgaria’s newest political player – won the November 14 snap general election, taking a lead of around three percentage points over the former ruling party Gerb with 99.51% of the votes counted by the central election committee (CIK). The latest results show Change Continues is on 25.7% versus 22.8% for Gerb.
The formation founded by two of the most popular former caretaker ministers Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev has expressed its commitment to forming a new coalition government after the two previous elections, in April and July, produced fragmented parliaments where no party was able to form a majority.
Theoretically, Change Continues has the chance to form a ruling coalition with the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), There Are Such People (ITN) and Democratic Bulgaria. Analysts say the negotiations with ITN could be the toughest as the party did not do well with negotiations after winning the July 11 vote. On the other hand, ITN has indicated it would not repeat that mistake.
Vassilev said in an interview with bTV on November 15 that the formation will start coalition negotiations this week. It will propose working groups on various topics and will seek a detailed coalition agreement on all policies and priorities similar to the 800-page agreement in Germany, Vassilev said.
“In Germany, the coalition agreement is 800 pages. If we do not write such [an agreement], the chance to go to new election or that the government will fall during a new and heavier crisis is very big. So we have to write this agreement,” Vassilev said.
He also said that the reform of the judiciary is the first thing the new coalition should do to restore the rule of law.
Petkov and Vassilev were among the most popular ministers in the former caretaker government and ahead of the vote were widely expected to become a significant factor in Bulgaria’s political life. Some suggest they are the new faces seen by Bulgarians as saviours of the country — voters previously pinned hopes on politicians like Gerb leader Boyko Borissov and President Rumen Radev — and this won them widespread support ahead of the November vote.
Prior to becoming caretaker economy minister, Petkov was among the co-founders of Yes Bulgaria, one of the parties in the Democratic Bulgaria coalition. He is also founder and CEO of the successful ProViotic company that produces probiotics. Petkov was also active in environmentalist and anti-corruption protests.
His friend and colleague Vassilev is co-founder of the Centre for Economic Strategies and Competitiveness. He has worked as consultant for Monitor Group in the US, Canada, Europe and South Africa.
The two new political players have solid educations. Petkov has a degree in Economics and Finance from the University of Vancouver and an MBA from Harvard. Vassilev has a degree in Economics from Harvard, and went on to specialise in business administration and law at the Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School.
Change Continues’s victory has seriously shaken the other political parties and some of them are about to lose their leadership as a result.
The formation won in key areas where Gerb and showman Slavi Trifonov’s There Are Such People (ITN) took most of the votes in the previous two elections in April and July. It also took a significant share of the ballots previously cast for reformist Democratic Bulgaria, whose score has collapsed to 6.3%, and Stand up.BG! We Are Coming! (ISBG), which will not even pass the 4% threshold to enter parliament.
Most leaders of Democratic Bulgaria resigned on November 15, taking responsibility for the significantly worse performance compared to July when the formation gained more than 13% of the vote.
Another political leader – Krassimir Karakachanov of far-right VMRO – resigned after failing to gain even 0.1% of the vote in the presidential election also held on November 14.
The leadership of the BSP, which lost votes on November 14 and ranked fourth after the ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) with 10.3% versus 12.9%, is pushing for the resignation of its leader Kornelia Ninova. So far, Ninova has not commented on her possible resignation.
Gerb’s leader Boyko Borissov, whose party’s performance was worse compared to July when it got around 24%, did not take any responsibility for the loss; on the contrary, he claimed that Gerb did well on November 14.
According to CIK’s results, President Rumen Radev got 50% of the votes in the presidential election. However, the election will go to a second round, in which Radev will compete with Gerb-backed Anastas Gerdzhikov, because the turnout was below 50%, at around 38.9%.
The turnout, the lowest this year, was seen as a signal that Bulgarians are tired of elections after three votes in a year and want a regular government. The peak of the fourth wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic might have also influenced people’s decisions on whether to go to the polling stations.