Political Party Analysis: Socialist Party (Bulgaria)

The next party we will cover in our analysis of Bulgarian politics is the Bulgarian Socialist party.


Overview and History

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), is the oldest active political party in Bulgaria, being founded back in 1894 as the Communist Party before changing its name in 1990.  With that name change came newer policies, as they abandoned their former Marxist-Leninist far-left ideology and adopted more left-wing socialist policies instead.  Since the foundation of free elections in 1990, they have finished in 1st or 2nd in every parliamentary election, making them one of the strongest parties in Bulgaria and the main opposition to the center-right GERB party.  Their favorite coalition partner is the Turkish-minority Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS).

Korneliya Ninova’s Bulgarian Socialist Party made large gains in 2017 but failed to secure a plurality.  (Photo from Sputnik)

Recent Electoral History and Political Power

National Party Strength Ranking: 2nd

BSP is the 2nd strongest party in Bulgaria following this year’s election.  Details on their control in specific areas are below.

Prime Minister: Since 1990, BSP has led 4 governments, the most recent of which was following the 2013 election.

Parliament: In the 2014 parliamentary elections the party received 15.4% of the vote, 39 out of the 240 seats in parliament, and finished in 2nd place.

In this year’s parliamentary elections, BSP jumped to 27.2% of the vote and 80 seats, but they still finished in 2nd place behind GERB.

President: BSP did not officially have a candidate in the 2016 presidential election, but they endorsed Rumen Radev, an independent.  Radev received 25.44% of the vote in the first round of the election and 59.37% in the second round, winning the office.

European Parliament: BSP is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats parliamentary group in the European Parliament.  In the 2014 European Parliament elections, they finished in 2nd place with 18.93% of the vote, earning 4 out of the 17 seats allocated to Bulgaria.

Projections future Elections

N/A – the next Bulgarian election will be in 2021 if a new one is not called before that.

Economic and Fiscal Policy 

From their name, the Bulgarian Socialist Party supports a socialist economic policy (though more moderate factions within the party are social-democrats instead).  Their policy is based around more government involvement in the economy, as they believe GERB’s more market based policies have failed.  They also call for increasing pensions and higher salaries for public sector workers.

Liberty Rating*: D-

Social and Foreign Policy

BSP’s social policy tends to focus on security.  They have campaigned on increasing border security, especially with Turkey, as conflicts have emerged over the large amounts of refugees and immigrants coming from and through Turkey.  In terms of foreign policy, they are concerned about foreign involvement from the west, Turkey, and Russia in Bulgaria’s politics and wants to bring an end to that; despite this, they do want to end the EU’s sanctions on Russia, and they support working more with Russia as well.

Liberty Rating*:  D+

(There is little other information in English about BSP’s policies.  We will attempt to update this further as we know more, and please contact us if you have information.)

Political Spectrum**

BSP spectrum


Based on our liberty ratings for BSP’s economic and social policy, they are a left-wing socialist party is the authoritarian sector.  Their economic policies are socialist and interventionist, placing them solidly in the traditionally left area on economics, but their social policies focus on security and favoritism towards Russia, pushing them into the authoritarian sector instead.

Read our analysis of other Bulgarian Political Parties:

*Disclaimer: The policy positions in this article have been evaluated using Wikipedia, Sofia Globe’s article on the party’s platform, and various articles concerning Bulgarian politics.  We attempt to rate the parties based on all information that is available, but due to language barriers, lack of information, or simple mistake we may have missed something.  If you feel our liberty ratings or general evaluations are incorrect, please let us know on our contact page or nicely in the comments and we’ll try to fix it.  If you have questions on how these ratings are created, feel free to ask as well.

**This spectrum shows economic liberty on the right axis and social liberty on the left axis, so 100 on both axis is “pure” libertarianism and 0 on both axis is pure authoritarianism for example.

Political Party Analysis: GERB (Bulgaria)

The first party we will cover in our analysis of Bulgarian politics is the center-right GERB party.

Overview and History

Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, better known as “GERB”, is one of the two largest parties in Bulgaria.  GERB represents the center-right with moderate leanings.  The party was founded in 2006 out of the failing remains of former Tsar Simeon II’s NDSV party, and it has received the most votes in every parliamentary election since its founding.  Their recent defeat in the 2016 presidential election caused their Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, to resign, leading to the 2017 parliamentary elections.

Boyko Borisov, Prime Minister, Bulgaria
Two-time Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is hoping GERB will be the largest party for the 4th straight election. (Photo from Getty Images)

Recent Electoral History and Political Power

National Party Strength Ranking: 1st

GERB is the strongest party in Bulgaria heading into the election on March 26th.  Details on their control in specific areas are below.

Prime Minister: Boyko Borisov has been Prime Minister twice, leading 2 out of the 3 most recent non-interim governments.  Both times he resigned before his term was up.

Parliament: In the 2014 parliamentary elections the party received 32.67% of the vote, 84 out of the 240 seats in parliament, and finishing in 1st place.

President:  GERB’s candidate, Tsetka Tsacheva, received 21.96% of the vote in the first round of the 2016 presidential election, finishing in second place.  In the runoff, she received 36.16% of the vote, losing to the BPS supported independent candidate.

European Parliament: GERB is a member of the European People’s Party parliamentary group in the European Parliament.  In the 2014 European Parliament elections, they finished in 1st place with 30.4% of the vote, earning 6 out of the 17 seats allocated to Bulgaria.

Projections for 2017 Election

Despite GERB’s poor performance in the presidential election, they are expected to remain strong in this year’s parliamentary elections.  That being said, their streak of victories may come to an end, as polls show them in a dead heat with the Socialist Party (BSP).  They are likely to receive the lightly lower results compared to the 32.7% they received in 2014, as opinion polls show them between 28.2% and 31.2%

This result means that they would need a coalition to form a government.  Since a leftist coalition between BSP and DPS would not reach a majority, GERB will probably be taking the lead.  They will need to form a coalition with, or have outside support from, at least 2 of the other right-leaning parties: the right-wing-populist United Patriots, center-right populist Volya party, and center-right Reformist bloc (if they make it into parliament).  Whether such a government would be successful depends on who GERB works with, as the more they have to work with the populists, the less likely things are to work out.


Economic and Fiscal Policy 

GERB’s economic policies are moderate when it comes to being a center-right party, and some of their policies even point more towards the center or center-left.  One of these policies is a large increase in the minimum wage.  They are also making a move to double the salaries of teachers throughout the country and change school funding to not be based on purely the number of students attending.  Historically, Borisov and GERB have maintained a strict fiscal policy, improving the country’s credit ratings by imposing often unpopular austerity measures.  They combined these budget cuts with a more business friendly environment in the past, allowing for growth after the crash in 2008.

Liberty Rating*:  C+

Social and Foreign Policy

On social policy, GERB is trying to present a plan that will appeal to the populists, who accuse the Bulgarian government of corruption.  This comes with their plan to remove the immunity from prosecution of members of parliament and creating a commission to investigate the highest members of government.  They also advocate for modernization of the justice system, electronically monitoring criminals, and starting a sentence right after a trial to avoid people escaping.  Their plan to reform the justice system also includes expanding police forces in smaller villages, putting cameras on all traffic police cars, and an expansion of civil asset forfeiture.  In addition to the more economic and fiscal education reforms, they also want to expand the number of psychologists and sports teams at schools, to reduce the prevalence of aggressive actions throughout the country.  On foreign policy they support working more with the European Union against Russia.

Liberty Rating*:  C-

(There is little other information in English about GERB’s policies.  We will attempt to update this further as we know more, and please contact us if you have information.)

Political Spectrum**

GERB spectrum

Based on our liberty ratings for GERB’s economic and social policy, they are a center-right to center party in the moderate portion of the right sector.  Their economic policies seem to combine fiscal responsibility and some interventionist policies, placing them slightly into the right instead of authoritarian sector.  On social policies, they promote more oversight in the government to avoid corruption while also advocating for increased policing and civil asset forfeiture, placing them into the right instead of libertarian sector.  Across the board they are more moderate due to having a mix both traditionally left and right policies.

Read our analysis of other Bulgarian Political Parties:

-Coming Soon-

*Disclaimer: The policy positions in this article have been evaluated using Wikipedia, Sofia Globe’s article on the party’s platform, and various articles concerning Bulgarian politics.  We attempt to rate the parties based on all information that is available, but due to language barriers, lack of information, or simple mistake we may have missed something.  If you feel our liberty ratings or general evaluations are incorrect, please let us know on our contact page or nicely in the comments and we’ll try to fix it.  If you have questions on how these ratings are created, feel free to ask as well.

**This spectrum shows economic liberty on the right axis and social liberty on the left axis, so 100 on both axis is “pure” libertarianism and 0 on both axis is pure authoritarianism for example.

2017 Bulgarian Parliamentary Election: A Preview

Will the 2017 parliamentary election end the instability of Bulgarian politics?


Now that we’ve set up the background and overview of Bulgarian politics, we can now take a took at their upcoming parliamentary elections, which will take place on March 26th of this year.

As we discussed in our overview, Bulgarian politics are fluid to the point that no government has been reelected since the fall of communism in 1990.  In fact, governing coalitions are often a minority government and do not even last the full 4 years.  The 4% cutoff allows anywhere between 4 and 8 parties to enter parliament, meaning anywhere from 2 to 4 parties are needed for a majority.  Recently the trend has been the formation of a minority coalition with non-coalition support from a third and/or fourth party.

With only one month left until the election there are still many questions surrounding the potential results and their legitimacy.  After controversy about voter fraud in 2013, it was mandated that voting machines be provided in every polling booth as an alternative to voting via paper, but almost no polling locations have requested a voting machine.  This could cause a problem with the Constitutional Court afterwards and is something to look out for as early voting has already been impacted.

Bulgaria is economically expanding but is facing new obstacles due to Russian sanctions and the political instability.  Business leaders are fearing whether a stable majority will finally be formed, preventing a solid basis for future expectations.  Will stability be created or will the current trend continue?  Let’s take a look.

Beyond the normal economic debates, the main issues of the election, like the presidential election before it, are the EU, Russian relations, and refugees from the Middle East.  Considering the country’s location relative to the Middle East and particularly Turkey, refugees are an increasingly prominent concern.  One of the main parties, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), is actually a party supporting Turkish and Muslim minority interests, showing the growing immigrant population within Bulgaria.

Polling and Projections

Opinion polls since the start of 2017 predict 5 or 6 parties will make it into parliament.  (Chart from Wikipedia)

Bulgarian polling data does not have an answer to the question of stability.  Currently 5 parties will almost certainly finish about the 4% cutoff point and Reformist Bloc is on the edge.  The current minority coalition of the center-right GERB and the Reformist Bloc (RB) parties, with the support of Patriotic Front and the Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV), is unlikely to last due to RB’s drop from 8.89% in the previous election to polling around 4% this year.  Alternative for Bulgarian Revival are also unlikely to break the 4% cutoff and the Patriotic Front electoral alliance has merged with attack to become United Patriots (UP).  While GERB’s Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, was forced to resign due to the results of the presidential election, his party’s popularity has not taken a large hit.  GERB received 32.67% of the vote in 2014 and are currently polling between 28% and 31.5% (depending on what polling company you look at), implying continued support for the party.

GERB’s main rivals, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), are projected to make significant gains compared to the 2014 elections, in which they only received 15.4% of the vote.  Similarly to GERB, they are polling between 28% and 31.6%, making the battle for a plurality a tight race.  DPS, a liberal Muslim party that tends to favor coalitions with BSP, has taken the brunt of BSP’s rise in the polls; they are projected to drop from 14.84% of the vote to approximately 7% to 8.5%.

Two other groups (one alliance and one party) are expected to make it into parliament as well.  One of these is the right-wing United Patriots electoral alliance – consisting of Attack, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, and the Bulgarian National Movement.  The latter two parties participated in the Patriotic Front electoral alliance in 2014, and this newer alliance is an attempt to unite the right-wing electoral campaign, preventing Attack from falling below the 4% mark.  Attack’s share of the vote has dropped in recent elections, so preventing them from falling below the 4% total keeps the right-wing stronger in parliament.  Compared to 2014, where the members total received 11.8% of the vote (7.28% for the Patriotic Front and 4.52% for Attack), UP is expected to receive between 9% and 12% of the vote.  Volya (also known as Will), a new party based around Varna-based businessman Veselin Mareshki, is also expected to enter parliament.  According to IntelliNews, “Mareshki describes Volya as a centre-right party of independent pragmatic people.”  Mareshki has also been compared to Donald Trump as an anti-establishment businessman turned politician.  Interestingly, in that IntelliNews article (and according to Novinite) he admitted to giving bribes in “the interest of Bulgarian citizens.”  This means his party has brought some interesting controversy with its rise, and polling data has ranged between 5% and 12% for the party, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the potential results of the party.  Two other parties that made it into parliament in 2014 will most likely not reach the 4% cutoff this year: Bulgaria Without Censorship and the Alternative for Bulgarian Revival.

Vesselin Mareshki is looking to make a splash in Bulgarian politics with the rise of his Volya party. (Photo from Wikipedia)

Possible Coalitions

The two main factions are the BSP and DPS on the left and GERB, RB, and Volya on the right (plus possibly the member parties of UP if needed).  As we said earlier, the governing coalition is unlikely to continue as GERB and RB are both expected to lose seats.  They received approximately 41.5% of the vote in 2014 and will received around 31% to 34% of the vote this year.  The Reformist Bloc might not even break the 4% threshold, which would be a serious detriment to to GERB’s efforts.  Since Volya is more likely to align with GERB than BSP, their 5% to 12% could bring that vote total up to anywhere between 36% and 46% (it is probable that the three parties will receive combined around 39 to 43% to give a slightly more accurate range).  That will most likely not not be enough to form a majority coalition, especially if RB fails to reach 4%.  BSP’s gains are partly offset by DPS’s losses, but combined they will make gains.  Combined they earned just over 30% of the vote in 2014 and will receive between 35% and 40% of the vote this year.  The result: neither of the main left or right “preferred” coalitions are possible.

Since these pure center-right or center-left coalition are unlikely to receive a majority of seats, there are three possible agreements that could potentially be reached (barring a large swing in the polls between now and election day): A center-right coalition with right-wing (UP) support, a GERB led coalition with various supporting parties, or a center-left coalition with center-right or right-wing support.  The first of these is the most likely as it a similar one to the agreement reached following the 2014 election.  In this situation, the previously mentioned GERB led coalition would receive outside support from all or some of the United Patriots electoral alliance, which (besides Attack) supported the previous GERB led government.  Reminder: support means they agree to vote to approve the prime minister and cabinet, but the party does not receive any cabinet positions.  Assuming most or all of the UP members are willing to support GERB, their support would likely give them the required majority.  We have seen this scenario since 2014 be somewhat stable, but it is not the solid majority coalition that would solve the shakiness of Bulgarian politics.  The second scenario would be similar but there is a different mix of coalition members and supporting parties.  There is precedent for opposition support from DPS for GERB along with a mix of center-right and right-wing coalition partners and supporters.  A variety of outcomes could be possible here; an example is a coalition of GERB and RB with outside support from Volya along with part or all of UP and/or DPS.  The last time this happened was after 2009, when GERB was 4 seats away from the 121 seats needed for a majority and opposition parties gave support.  This would be much more unstable considering the governing coalition would have received less than 40% of the vote, and relying on outside support usually leads to problems.  The final scenario is only if GERB does not have a path to a majority, as this is a long-shot attempt that was tried and failed after the 2013 election.  In this case, BSP and DPS form a coalition (as they did is 2013) and require outside support from the center-right or right-wing to govern.  In 2013, they attempted to create a mostly non-partisan and pragmatic parliament, receiving support from the right-wing Attack party since they only have 120 seats (exactly 50% instead of the needed 50% + 1).  This year, they would need support from either Volya or UP to reach a majority.  The 2013 agreement fell apart quickly, so this would be a shaky deal leading to instability.


To conclude our general preview of the election we must go back to the question of whether the instability of government formation will continue.  The answer is almost certainly yes.  In proportional-style elections that don’t have a solid majority from either main faction we often look for a centrist king-maker party to be a junior-coalition partner for stability, but Bulgaria lacks a party of that style.  DPS seems to the main “3rd party” that could fill that role, but they appear unwilling to form a coalition across ideological lines with GERB (and RB on the other side not working with BSP).  The strength of the right-wing and right-wing-populist parties in Bulgaria make this problem even worse, as they are almost always unwilling to form a stable coalition with the center-right, even if the “right” in total has a majority (as it does here).   These factors mean that the instability of governments that we have seen in the past will continue after the 2017 election, no matter who leads the coalition building.

In our next few posts will will discuss the specifics of each party: their election results, ideologies, liberty ratings, and projections.

Politics of Bulgaria: An Overview

The next country we will focus on in 2017 is Bulgaria, as their election on the 26th of March will be the second major one of the year.

Bulgarian politics are fluid and often unstable.  An assassination attempt in 2013 and three straight early elections are just two parts of the Eastern European country’s fluctuating political atmosphere.  We will provide an overview of the country’s politics ahead of the 2017 election.

Bulgaria normally holds a parliamentary election every 4 years, but early elections were called ahead of schedule due to the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in November of 2016.   His center-right “Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria” (GERB) party candidate, Tsetska Tsacheva, lost the 2016 presidential election in the second round with only 36.16% of the vote.  Though the president is merely a formality in Bulgarian politics, like most parliamentary republics, the defeat showed that people no longer had confidence in the GERB-led coalition government.

Boyko Borisov, Prime Minister, Bulgaria
Former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was forced to resign for a second time following his party’s defeat in the 2016 presidential elections. (Photo from Getty Images)

In our next post we will give a full preview of the 2017 election, but first we need to examine how the Bulgarian election system works and what the country’s electoral history looks like.

The unicameral parliamentary system Bulgaria uses places the most of the power in the national assembly, which then selects the prime minister with a majority vote.  Members of the parliament are selected from multi-member constituencies via a closed-party list, meaning that people vote for a party instead of an individual, and seats are allocated from each constituency.  Without getting bogged down in the detail, this means that a party (or alliance of parties) needs 4% of the vote to receive a proportional number of seats in the parliament.  Unlike the Dutch system’s 0.67% cutoff that we covered in previous posts, this 4% cutoff places stricter conditions on entering parliament, meaning less parties are usually required to form a governing coalition.  This coalition selects the prime minister, who then forms a cabinet.

Historically, Bulgaria had their first free elections in 1990 with the decline of Soviet Union, making it a relatively young republic.  In 2007, 17 years later, the country joined the European Union along with neighboring Romania, but it is outside of the Eurozone, keeping it someone independent of the Euro crisis and dulling euroskepticism in the country.  That being said, right-wing-populism is present with the creation of the “United Patriots” electoral alliance, consisting of three nationalist parties (Attack, Bulgarian National Movement, and National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria), in 2016.

In parliamentary elections, the government has never been reelected since the fall of communism, displaying the fluid and often unstable nature of Bulgarian politics.  The previous two elections were also early after protests over austerity rattled the GERB led government in 2013, leading to slightly early elections.  The resulting Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and Turkish interest Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) government then resigned in mid 2014 due to more protests, forcing another election.  This inability of three governments in a row to serve for all 4 years is a dangerous trend for the country.

With that historical overview covered, let’s take a deeper look at the previous two parliamentary elections and most recent presidential and European elections to see if a trend emerges ahead of this year’s.

As we covered before, the 2013 election came on the heels of the (first) resignation of Prime Minister Borisov and his GERB party.  Widespread protests and unpopularity of many parties was rampant throughout the country, including an attempted assassination of DPS party leader Ahmet Dhogan during a lived televised speech.  The election saw a large increase in support for the left-wing “Coalition for Bulgaria” electoral alliance (now called “BSP for Bulgaria”), consisting of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and many smaller left-wing parties.  They received 26.61% of the vote and gained 44 additional seats in the national assembly, bringing their total to 84 (out of 240).  GERB received 30.54% of the vote, losing 20 seats and bringing their total to 97 seats, still holding a plurality.  The liberal-center Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) received 11.31% of the vote, losing 1 seat and finishing with 36 seats.  The only other party to finish above the 4% cutoff was the right-wing-populist and pro-Russia “Attack”, who received 7 seats.  Controversy was rampant about voter fraud following the election, causing a rocky start to the resulting BSP and DPS government, which lasted just over a year before dissolving.

DPS Party Leader Ahmet Dhogan survived an assassination attempt ahead of the 2013 election by fighting back against the attacker seen on the right.  (Photo from the NY Daily News)

Just before the dissolution, the government’s popularity (or lack thereof) was presented in the 2014 European parliamentary election in May.  GERB finished with 30.4% of the vote and 6 of the 17 seats, Coalition for Bulgaria (BSP’s alliance) received 18.93% of the vote and 4 seats, DPS received 17.27% of the vote and 4 seats, the new euroskeptic Bulgaria Without Censorship party received 10.66% of the vote and 2 seats, and the new Christian-Democratic Reformist Bloc received 6.45% of the vote and 1 seat.  Attack, who had indirectly supported the government, fell from 11.96% to 2.96%, losing all of their seats in the European Parliament.  The results of the election showed that the already minority coalition between the BSP and DPS did not have even 40% of the vote, and the prime minister resigned by the end of July, only 2 months later.

The BSP’s struggles continued, as 2014 parliamentary election punished the socialists for their unpopular governing.  They fell to 15.4% of the vote (down from their previous 26.61%), finishing with only 39 seats, 45 less than after the 2013 election.  Interestingly, GERB did not benefit directly from BSP’s fall in seats, despite receiving 32.67% of the vote (up 2.13% from 2014), as 8 parties entering the parliament (instead of the 4 after 2013) caused the seats to be more divided among the parties.  They still received 84 seats, far more than their BSP counterparts.  DPS finished close behind BSP with 14.84% of the vote (up 3.53% from 2014) and 38 seats, not receiving the punishment that their senior coalition partner did.  Five other parties managed to receive more than the required 4% of the vote: the Reformist Bloc (8.89% and 23 seats), Patriotic Front (now know as United Patriots:7.28% and 19 seats), Bulgaria Without Censorship (5.69% and 15 seats), Attack (4.52% and 11 seats), and Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (4.15% and 11 seats).  The larger number of parties caused coalition negotiations to be more difficult, but eventually GERB and the Reformist Bloc (RB) formed a minority coalition supported by the Patriotic Front and Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV).  Minority coalitions such as this tend not to last the whole 4 years, and this one was no different.

The Independent Pro-Russia candidate, Rumen Radev, won a decisive presidential victory with the support of the BSP.  (Photo from PressTV)

The popularity of that minority coalition was tested when Prime Minister Borisov put his hopes in Tsetska Tsacheva for the 2016 presidential election and vowed to resign if she lost.  The two major candidates, the independent but BSP supported Rumen Radev and Tsacheva for GERB, received 25.44% and 21.96% respectively in the first round of the election.  While this was conceivably a close result, the second round was a decisive victory for Radev, who received 59.37% of the vote to Tsacheva’s 36.16% (percentages don’t add up to 100% due to the available “none of the above” option).  The result was considered to be a vote of no confidence for the GERB led government, and Borisov resigned as he promised.

Looking at these elections over the past 4 years gives us a decent overview of where Bulgarian politics is.  There is a constant struggle to hold onto a majority, and the rise of the right-wing-populist “United Patriots” electoral alliance will likely continue to make a majority coalition difficult.  We will have to see if this year’s election, which we will preview in our next post, can change that trend.  Hopefully this has been enough of a basic overview as we begin to cover the Bulgarian election.  After a general preview we will have an analysis of each major party ahead of the election.

More information: Elections in Bulgaria, 2017 Election, Bulgarian National Assembly