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Bulgaria’s Mayoral Elections End GERB’s Long Reign Over Capital

Tech entrepreneur and start-up investor Vassil Terziev is Sofia’s new mayor, ending 18 years of rule by the conservative GERB party, run-off results issued by the Central Election Committee showed on Monday. “Thank you for looking up and seeing Sofia through the eyes of hope,” Terziev posted on his social channels. 

Although Terziev, nominated by “We Continue the Change”, Democratic Bulgaria, Save Sofia and Team of Sofia, confidently led in the first round on October 29, his victory on November 5 was far from assured. 

Terziev won 48.2 per cent of the votes. His rival, the left-wing worker’s rights activist Vanya Grigorova, came close behind on 46.9 per cent.

The run-off in many ways was an ideological clash: Grigorova ran with the support of anti-Western, EU-sceptic, pro-Russian parties –  the Bulgarian Socialist Party, The Left!, the far-right Attack! and the “Neutral Bulgaria” alliance. Her politics are close to those of Bulgaria’s pro-Kremlin President, Rumen Radev. 

“I’m already a winner; I managed to send shivers down them all,” Grigorova quipped on Sunday.

Terziev’s victory was also shadowed by a low turnout. Only 34.2 per cent of Sofia voters cast ballots. In some other towns the turnout was even lower. Only 23 per cent iof voters cast ballots n Bulgaria’s second biggest city, Plovdiv. 

For GERB, the elections reveal a noticeable decline of public trust. The party ran Sofia for close to two decades, first through Boyko Borissov from 2005 to 2009, and then through Yordanka Fandakova, mayor from 2009 to now. Fandakova has issued no comment since the start of the campaign. 

Results on Monday confirmed that GERB had also lost other towns where for years it had ruled comfortably.  One was Blagoevgrad, the biggest town in south-west Bulgaria. It also lost in Varna, a major tourist centre and the biggest town on the Black Sea.

“Since today, we’re living in a new town. It’s going to be lighter from now on,” Varna’s new mayor, Blagomir Kotsev, nominated by “We Continue the Change” and Democratic Bulgaria, said on Monday. He replaced GERB’s Ivan Portnih, whose reputation has been marred by corruption allegations. 

GERB losses risk undermining wobbly coalition

The elections signify the increased influence of “We Continue the Change”, a reformist party which started during President Radev’s 2021 interim cabinet, came first in the general elections in November that year and went on to form a short-lived coalition government. After being ousted in June 2022, it severed ties with the President, after Russia invaded Ukraine. 

Bulgaria’s current government is an uneasy coalition of two opposing blocs – GERB plus United Democratic Forces and “We Continue the Change” plus Democratic Bulgaria.

It took power in June to break the 2021-2023 election logjam, sidelining some of their differences and uniting over shared ambitions for Bulgaria to join the Schengen area and the Eurozone.

With the mayoral elections reigniting rivalries between the rwo blocs, and with GERB looking wounded, the question was how this would impact relations in the cabinet.

In his first comments after the run-offs, former GERB Prime Minister Borissov accused “We Continue the Change” of “hypocrisy” and even alleged that in some towns it had coordinated with pro-Russian far-righters Revival against GERB candidates. 

However, despite GERB’s seemingly pro-EU profile. Alpha Research’s exit poll indicated that 46 per cent of those who had voted for GERB’s unsuccessful candidate in Sofia, former news director Anton Hekimyan, voted for Grigorova on the run-off, and 38 per cent voted for Terziev. 

Source : Balkan Insight