Bulgarians are heading to the polls to elect a new parliament and a new president amid a surge of coronavirus infections.
Some 6.7 million eligible voters hope that after inconclusive general elections in April and July, the third attempt to elect 240 lawmakers will result in a government to lead the European Union’s poorest member out of health and economic crises.
Analysts predict a low turnout on Sunday due to people’s concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, sluggish vaccine uptake and political apathy after two inconclusive elections.
The Balkan country, the least-vaccinated in the EU with fewer than one-third of its adults fully vaccinated, reported 334 COVID-related deaths in a single day this week – the country’s highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic.
“We must all vote but I’m also afraid that it will all be in vain … I don’t have much hope,” 62-year-old Milena Stoyanova told the AFP news agency on the eve of the election, summing up the general gloom.
While many said they will not bother to go to the polling stations, 35-year-old finance expert Petar Angelov said he’ll “definitely vote… for change” and “a better future”.
A low turnout would favour the former ruling GERB party which, despite a further erosion in support, can still count on many loyal voters and is likeliest to finish first.
In recent months, however, investigations by the current caretaker government into alleged corruption during ex-Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s tenure in office are limiting his chances to find coalition partners for his fourth four-year term in 12 years.
Political analysts are predicting that a new party, We Continue the Change, created by the previous caretaker government’s ministers of economy and finance, will come in second and likely be at the core of a new government.
Founded only a few weeks ago by two Harvard graduates, Kiril Petkov, 41, and Asen Vasilev, 44, the party has quickly won wide support due to their resolute anti-graft messaging and pledges to bring transparency, zero tolerance for corruption and reforms to key sectors.
Opinion polls suggest that up to seven parties could pass the 4-percent threshold to enter Parliament.
Petkov and Vassilev said having an elected government is “of vital importance” and that they were ready for “compromise” to end the country’s worst political crisis since the end of communism.
“They are very enthusiastic,” said Boryana Dimitrova of the Alpha Research institute, adding, however, that the two had little experience in politics and might end up leading an “unstable” coalition.
“Two things are clear: the new parliament will not be easier than the previous two and forming of a government will not be easier,” Dimitrova told Reuters news agency.
But, with politicians under pressure from weary voters to put aside their differences, she said it was widely expected that “we cannot be left without a government for a third time”.
In Sunday’s presidential election, a total of 23 candidates are running for the largely ceremonial post.
Incumbent Rumen Radev, a vocal critic of Borissov and a firm supporter of last year’s anti-corruption protests, is tipped to have good chances to win a second five-year term.
Polls suggest that he will win slightly less than the 50 percent needed for an outright victory in the first round.
If so, there will be a runoff vote on November 21, most likely against his main contestant for the post – Anastas Gerdzhikov, a university professor.