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Bargaining in Bulgaria: the Aftermath of the June 2005 Parliamentary Elections

August 14, 2005

By Vassia Gueorguieva*

For more than a month after the parliamentary elections on June 25th, the political forces in Bulgaria have been unable to strike a deal to form a new coalition government.

As predicted by polls, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) won the majority of the votes (34%) followed by the incumbent National Movement “Simeon II” (NDSV), which received 22%. The Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS), an ethnic Turks party, got 14% of the votes.

As in the 2001 parliamentary elections, these were also marked by surprising stunts of new political formations. In 2001, the Simeon II National Movement, which had formed less than six months before the election and was headed by Bulgaria’s exiled monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, managed to comfortably secure an electoral victory. In 2005, barely two months after its formation, the coalition “Attack” (Ataka) received almost 9% of the votes and positioned itself ahead of Union of Democratic Forces (8%) and the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (7%), led by former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov.

But while the electoral race in 2001 merely resulted in the bizarre outcome of having Bulgaria’s expatriate king become Prime Minister, the 2005 election raised eyebrows and concerns due to the nationalist character and appeal of Attack’s political platform and its calls for detachment from NATO and renegotiations of Bulgaria’s accession agreement with the European Union. After receiving the mandate to form a coalition government with NDSV and DPS, the Socialists were unable to strike a deal with NDSV, which insisted that the new prime minister should be the incumbent Saxe-Coburg Gotha. After three weeks of fruitless negotiations, BSP opted to settle for a two-party coalition and a minority government. The Socialist leader, Sergei Stanishev, presented his choice for ministerial appointees before the Parliament on July 28 and was sworn as Prime Minister after a vote of 120 for and 119 against him. Just five hours later, the Parliament rejected his proposed government cabinet. Consequently, as stipulated by Bulgaria’s Constitution, the President assigned the mandate for government formation to NDSV, the runner-up.

On August 11, NDSV decided to reject the second mandate to form a government due to the “complicated political situation in the country.”

Political analysts have called for a resolution of the pending negotiations for the formation of a new government. The impasse is destabilizing the country and can also have repercussions for Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union (EU), which is expected to happen in 2007. To join the EU, Bulgaria still needs to carry out reforms of the judicial system and the agricultural and service sectors. The longer the deadlock in forming a government, the more these reforms will be delayed. If the European Commission’s report on Bulgaria, expected later this year, finds that the necessary reforms have not been carried out, the country’s membership in the EU will be postponed till 2008. However, these calls seem to have been largely ignored as evidenced by the protracted negotiations, which are now in their second month.

A third mandate to form a government is to be handed out within a week to a political force in the Parliament, other than the election winner and the runner-up. The Socialists, NDSV, DPS, and the Bulgaria’s People’s Union have demonstrated a willingness to continue negotiations among themselves and form a cabinet. In turn, the Union of Democratic Forces, Democrats for Strong Bulgaria and Attack have expressed a strong opposition against this coalition.

Expectations and hope are high that the stalemate will be overcome and a politically and socially acceptable coalition government will be formed. If this option eludes Bulgarians again, a program cabinet without the participation of political leaders might be the only solution, as has already been suggested by some political forces.

Vassia Gueorguieva is a Ph.D. Candidate at American University, Washington DC. She has worked for the Bulgarian Parliament and in 2001 took part in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Election Observation Mission to Bulgaria.

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