Photographer: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

Ex-Premier's Party Wins Bulgaria Vote to Boost Pro-EU Stance

  • Gerb got 33%, Socialists 27% with almost all ballots counted
  • Party will probably form coalition with nationalist group

Former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov won early elections in Bulgaria for the third time in five years, setting his Gerb party on course to form a center-right coalition and maintain the Black Sea nation’s pro-European path.

Boyko Borissov

Photographer: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

With almost all votes counted, Gerb had 33 percent, while the more pro-Russian Socialists, successor to the Communist Party, had 27 percent, the Central Electoral Commission said Monday in Sofia, the capital. The third-placed United Patriots, a nationalist group that’s the most likely partner for an alliance with Gerb, got 9.1 percent.

Bulgaria, a European Union and NATO member of 7.2 million people, is looking to end the political upheaval that’s brought a spate of elections and restrained the economy. While Gerb and the Socialists campaigned to revive business ties with Russia, Borissov didn’t join his rival’s calls to veto the bloc’s sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s government. The former bodyguard is unlikely to deviate much from his past foreign-policy or economic direction.

“Positively, a slim majority can be reached between two parties, unlike the three- or even four-party coalition suggested by the polls,” said Ciprian Dascalu, chief Balkan economist at ING Bank NV. Gerb is less radical on altering Bulgaria’s stance toward Russia, will probably temper the United Patriots’ nationalist leanings and is likely to persist with fiscal discipline, “despite growth-supportive electoral pledges from all sides.”

‘Stable Government’

Gerb’s victory sent the yield on Bulgaria’s euro-denominated bonds due September 2024 down four basis points to 1.495 percent as of 3:41 p.m. in Sofia, the lowest in almost five months, data compiled by Bloomberg showed. It jumped beyond 2 percent in November when Borissov resigned after his candidate’s defeat to a Russia-friendly Socialist in that month’s presidential vote, triggering Sunday’s ballot.

“The result is categorical -- it re-confirms that Gerb must be the leading party in the future government,” said 57-year-old Borissov, who as well as being a bodyguard for ex-communist dictator Todor Zhivkov and former king and ex-Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, has also worked as a fireman. “We must have a stable government and a stable opposition.”

Gerb pulled away from the Socialists in the runup to the vote and may have benefited from Borissov’s tough stance toward neighboring Turkey. The United Patriots had stoked tensions by blocking border crossings over claims Turkey planned to bus over Bulgarian expatriates to back a party linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Coalition Talks

That party missed parliament’s 4 percent entry barrier and said it may contest the election results. Another that just passed the threshold -- businessman Vesselin Mareshki’s Will -- said it would seek a recount. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found no major violations.

One other party entered parliament: the Movement for Rights and Freedoms that represents Bulgaria’s ethnic Turks, who comprise 8 percent of the population. The Reformers Bloc, a partner for Gerb in the past, failed to make the cut. Coalition talks won’t start before official elections results are finalized this week.

Bulgaria’s economy expanded 3.4 percent last year, though it’s trailed neighboring Romania, another 2007 EU entrant and corruption is ranked the bloc’s worst by Transparency International. Gerb wants to maintain the 10 percent flat rate of income tax and a balanced fiscal policy in the EU’s poorest nation.

“Bulgarians bet on keeping the country’s pro-European direction and didn’t fully share the Socialists’ policies for change,” Genoveva Petrova, executive director of the Alpha Research polling company, said by phone. But the nationalists may prove trickier than the Reformers as a partner for Gerb and could “undermine the stability of the coalition.”

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