Surprise election win could end Bulgaria's long political deadlock

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Hopes were rising in Bulgaria Monday that a government can finally be formed, after the third general election in a year produced a surprise winner.

With over 93 percent of the ballots counted from Sunday's elections, the centrist We Continue the Change (PP) formation, founded in September by two Harvard-educated former entrepreneurs, was set for a surprise win with 25.46 percent of the votes.

"I hope that they will be reasonable enough to form a government... These are the third elections in a year which is too much already," graphic designer Lyuba Yanchuleva, 67, told AFP while walking her dog in Sofia on Monday morning.

A series of scandals about misuse of taxpayers money relegated the conservative GERB party of three-time premier Boyko Borisov to second place with some 22.78 percent.

Elections in April and July had failed to produce a government, deepening voter apathy and pushing voter turnout to a historical low of under 40 percent, as the fourth and most violent wave of the coronavirus raged in the EU's least vaccinated country.

Analysts were however more hopeful for a coalition this time, despite a very fractured legislature in which seven parties gained seats.

"This time we will have a government coalition of four parties," Alpha Research analyst Boryana Dimitrova commented Monday.

Disillusioned voters were not so certain.

"Yes, the new yuppies are very likeable but who are they going to work with?" 72-year-old pensioner Petar Blagoev shrugged on Monday.

PP's co-leader Kiril Petkov, 41, who said he's ready to become premier, pledged to hold talks on clear priorities with the right-wing Democratic Bulgaria, with 6.16 percent, and the anti-establishment ITN party of showman Slavi Trifonov, with 9.6 percent.

They will also definitely need some backing from the Socialists, who won 10.28 percent, analysts said.

- Two red lines -

The PP has already said it won't hold any negotiations with GERB and the Turkish minority MRF party, with 13.17 percent, due to their tainted image after a series of corruption allegations during Borisov's ten-year rule.

"The parties of the change have to find agreement on a minimum agenda that can be implemented in the coming months and broadened afterwards, if possible," New Bulgarian University professor Antony Todorov said.

"We'll do everything in our power to have a regular government, a coalition government. There's so many problems that we need to solve and we are aware of this responsibility," Petkov told journalists after claiming victory on Sunday night before the official results were out.

Two "red lines" they would not budge from were zero corruption and reform of the judiciary, he added.

A presidential vote held together with the parliamentary elections was sent into a run-off next weekend between outgoing Socialist-backed President Rumen Radev, garnering 49.39 percent of the ballots, and Sofia University rector Anastas Gerdjikov, backed by GERB, with 22.75 percent.

Radev, a strong backer of street protests last summer against corruption under Borisov, is now running as independent and supported by PP.

"I believe that this time the parties will overcome their divisions in the name of our future and will form a stable majority that will elect an efficient government," Radev said Monday, adding that he will convene parliament without delay when the central electoral commission announces the final results of the vote.

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