Bulgarian PM seeks 4th time lucky at 'work, work, work' election

Sofia (Bulgaria) (AFP) –


Bulgarians vote Sunday to elect a new parliament with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's centre-right party tipped to finish first but may struggle to find coalition partners amid predictions of low turnout on pandemic fears.

Support for Borisov's GERB party -- in power almost uninterruptedly for close to a decade now -- has been eroded by a series of scandals, with protests last summer accusing the government of protecting oligarchs.

Eve-of-ballot polls however give GERB 28-29 percent of the votes, or an estimated 75-76 seats in the 240-seat legislature.

Three-time premier Borisov has refused all contact with the media since the demonstrations.

Instead, he broadcasts on social media his unannounced campaign trail visits to the countryside under the slogan "Work, work, work!".

"It's the absence of an alternative due to the fragmented and unconvincing opposition that explains GERB's hegemony," said political analyst Antony Todorov.

Up to six other parties are expected to win seats in parliament, he said, making it difficult to form the next cabinet.

- Pandemic fears -

Fears of infection amid a third wave of the coronavirus that has hospitals in the EU's poorest country filled to the brim may well depress turnout, analysts said.

The numbers of voters will be one of the most keenly watched aspects of the election and likely define the strength in the legislature of the new faces who have emerged from the protests.

Roughly 40 percent of the eligible 6.7 million voters will turn out on Sunday, according to the Alpha research institute.

Virus fears could impact the result of the main opposition Socialists in particular, whose older electorate is more likely to abstain.

With 20 to 22 percent of intended votes, the Socialist party is likely to garner 54-56 seats.

A new populist group, There is Such a Nation, led by sharp-tongued talk show host and Boris critic Slavi Trifonov, is polling third at around 13 percent and 33-34 seats.

Just behind them is the Turkish minority Movement for Rights and Freedoms party, a traditional kingmaker in several governments, with over 12 percent and 33-34 seats.

Two other formations will specifically target the votes of those who joined last summer's demonstrations.

The right-wing Democratic Bulgaria coalition, whose leader encouraged the protests, and the Stand up! Mafia out! left-wing coalition, close to President Rumen Radev, are set to garner five to six percent of the votes and end up with 13-17 lawmakers each.

Bringing up the rear are GERB's current government coalition partners -- the nationalist VMRO party, which will most likely manage to cross the four percent threshold to enter parliament after an aggressive campaign of anti-Roma, anti-LGBT and anti-North Macedonia rhetoric.

Voting stations open at 7 am (0400 GMT) and close at 8 pm (1700 GMT) or no later than nine pm, if there are queues. Exit polls are expected shortly after.

First partial official results, usually expected late Sunday night, might be delayed due to the introduction of machine voting along with the usual ballot paper voting in the majority of the big polling stations.

The central electoral committee is due to release the full official results by Thursday.