Bulgarians are voting again out of fear of rising prices

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Sofia (AFP) – Voting in their fourth general election in 18 months on Sunday, Bulgarians are concerned about rising consumer prices and energy costs ahead of a winter marred by the Ukraine war.

While the previous vote last November focused on endemic corruption, voters’ concerns are now centered on economic problems.

The poorest member state of the European Union struggles with annual inflation of almost 20 percent.

“Voters are far more concerned with prices than with the geostrategic issues that political parties argue about,” political scientist Antony Todorov told AFP.

Recent studies revealed “winter fears” among many Bulgarians, worried about the looming impact of rising heating and food costs.

To allay those fears, former three-time Prime Minister Boyko Borisov – who is eyeing another comeback – vowed to supporters on Friday to fight “the chaos”.

The 63-year-old, who dominated politics for a decade until last year, said at a final campaign rally in downtown Plovdiv that he would “work for the stability of the country”.

Polls on the eve of the election showed his conservative GERB party at the top with around 25 percent of the vote.

– ‘More work to do’ –

The Balkan country has been plagued by political instability since early last year, when the GERB party lost power after massive anti-corruption demonstrations.

Borisov’s rival, outgoing reformist Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, 42, has urged voters to let him “continue the change he has started” but is trailing around 16 percent in the polls.

The Harvard-educated former entrepreneur burst onto the political stage in 2021, managing to assemble a precarious four-party coalition after winning last November’s vote.

But after just seven months in power, he was overthrown in a motion of no confidence.

In an interview with AFP this week, Petkov touted his success in fighting “corrupt practices” that have allowed his cabinet to reallocate public funds, offer increases in pensions and free kindergartens.

“So that’s a great first step, but we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

“The challenge is to really show that the Bulgarians have made the choice, the choice for a new European, progressive, transparent Bulgaria, instead of going back to the years of transition, to the politicians of corruption,” he demanded.

Petkov categorically ruled out talks to form a coalition with Borisov, raising fears that the vote might not end the country’s worst period of political instability since the fall of communism in 1989.

Pro-Russian kingmakers?

Borisov, on the other hand, said he was “open to all” about talks on a stability cabinet.

Todorov, the analyst, said he was skeptical about the chances of Borisov’s GERB party in the position.

“I don’t think GERB, which is very isolated, could come back to power,” Todorov said.

“The situation is critical, Bulgaria needs a government, but not at any cost,” he added.

Another analyst, Georgy Kiryakov, said Borisov could find potential coalition partners in the Turkish minority party MRF and the ultra-nationalist Vazrazhdane party.

The openly pro-Russian formation has grown in popularity since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February.

In a country with close historical, economic and cultural ties to Moscow, the latest polls give him 11 to 14 percent of the vote.

Vazrazhdane’s “behaviour could prove crucial,” Kiryakov said.

Persistent political instability has meant that Bulgaria has struggled to enact reforms and hampered economic growth.

It has also accelerated the exodus of young people from the country, which has already lost a tenth of its population in the past decade.

And the cost of holding one snap election after another is also an issue Borisov raised at Friday’s campaign rally.

Linking the spending to major infrastructure projects he championed during his tenure, he said: “We spent a billion on elections, as much (on building) four stadiums in Plovdiv.”

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