If GERB comes in second in the forthcoming general elections, it won’t attempt to form a government, even if it receives the mandate, the two-time PM and leader of the party Boyko Borissov said in Nova TV’s morning talk show at the beginning of March. The statement could be attributed to the ex-PM trademark competitive attitude – the winner takes it all. Yet, looking back at his "exit and let the others fail" strategy in the 2013-2014 period, one could anticipate what Mr. Borissov may try to do next.
According to Mr. Borissov main opponent, Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leader Korneliya Ninova, he means it. "It’s a shame that this person has given up and is trying to vindicate his bad results. It’s a shame, because when you go into the race with an opponent who has declared his loss, it’s not interesting anymore", Mrs. Ninova said at an election rally. But why would Mr. Borissov, who remains one of the most popular politicians in the country, want to do that?
Would history repeat as a farce?
In the cold winter of 2013, massive anti-government protests ignited by a spike in energy prices brought down the first Borissov government (2009-2013). Although his party won the early elections in 2013, Mr. Borissov refused to form a government and let the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) do it instead. The Oresharsky government (2013-2014) took off with the fiasco appointment of media mogul Delyan Peevski as director of the national security services, which brought about the biggest protests in the country since 1997. After Oresharsky’s government failed to launch the South Stream gas pipeline project and their coalition partners abandoned them, it fell in mid-2014. In the election that followed the biggest losers from Mr. Oresharsky’s legacy were the Socialists, who lost the record 45 seats in parliament.
Mr. Borissov, on the other hand, returned triumphantly - ‘on a white horse’, as the Bulgarian saying goes - and formed his second center-right government. It is extremely possible that what he expects to happen in 2017 is nothing but a repetition of that scenario. And he is not even trying to hide his wishes.
"Look at Macedonia today - this is what awaits Bulgaria after the 26th of March", said Mr. Borissov in a recent interview, referring to the political crisis in Bulgaria’s southwestern neighbor. "Korneliya Ninova is promising everything, because she has never won elections and doesn’t know how to govern. It is hard to govern a country", Mr. Borissov said on a Bulgarian TV channel recently, adding that with BSP at the helm, the country would be heading towards international isolation.
Of course, GERB can form a government, as there are at least two viable partners. In tune with the global jingoistic trends, the rising nationalist three-party coalition United Patriots will most probably be the third biggest party in parliament after GERB and BSP, the latest polls show. According to the ex-member of parliament Dimitar Bayraktarov, who left United Patriots in mid-February, "things in the coalition are very rotten, with one (leader of the "United Patriots" - editor’s note) arranging secret meetings to negotiate with BSP, the other one - with GERB, and nobody knows where the third one is".
The other likely willing partner is Volya* of business mogul Veselin Mareshki, who ran for president on an anti-monopolist, anti-status quo platform to win 11% of the vote in the first round in late 2016. Although Mr. Mareshki claims he would support any party that backs his platform, he does not hide his preference for GERB.
Another possible masterplan
Yet, what Mr. Borissov may be aspiring to is something completely different. In 2016, a national referendum garnered more than 2.5 million votes "for" to change the electoral system to a majoritarian one. Although the results are not compulsory for the parliament, TV host and referendum initiator Slavi Trifonov has threatened with mass protests unless the next National Assembly changes the electoral system and immediately dissolves itself.
Dissolution of parliament would trigger yet another round of early elections, but the rules will be quite different - there will be 240 single-member constituencies and parties might not get any state subsidies. Which means that there will be one big winner (at least initially) - GERB. It’s the biggest party, it has built a deep-rooted patronage system in many regions and it keeps a huge amount of money in its election chest. This means GERB can win by a huge margin in a fully majoritarian system. According to calculations made by Bozhidar Bozhanov, an expert on e-governance, if the last parliament had been elected under a fully majoritarian system, GERB would have won more than 190 seats and would have had a constitutional majority.
Initially Mr. Borissov opposed the referendum, but recently he and his party changed their opinion dramatically and now support the first-past-the-post voting. In an interview for Eurocom TV Mr. Borissov underlined that the next government’s most crucial task would be to introduce the new electoral system. Maybe it is because GERB has already reaped the fruit of a partially majoritarian system - the party won all but three majoritarian places in 2009. In any case, it is highly likely that the party may go down this path if it loses the March elections. Which means more turbulence coming our way.
*the word means "will" in Bulgarian