Bulgarians were voting for a second time in three months on Sunday in the hope of breaking the country’s political impasse, with signs that turnout will be markedly lower than in the previous poll.
After almost a decade in power, the conservative GERB party of three-time Prime Minister Boyko Borisov came out first in the last election in April with 26 percent of ballots.
Since then, the 62-year-old Borisov — a former bodyguard with a black belt in karate — has suffered a series of further blows from revelations by the interim cabinet about bad governance and allegations of corruption under his watch.
Borisov has denied any wrongdoing and, while heading to cast his vote on Sunday, repeated accusations against the interim government of unfairly targeting him and said they had “sown chaos”.
Now polls credit both rival parties with 20-21 percent.
Pensioner Georgi Panichev, 67, said he was unhappy with the “excesses” of the current administration and was voting for “stability”, an allusion to the veteran Borisov, whose political longevity has marked Bulgaria’s post-communist history.
Heading to vote with her two young daughters, she said she hoped “our children don’t emigrate when they grow up”.
– ‘New faces’ –
Even if GERB manages to come first, “they will not govern” as other parties now snub them, political analyst Strahil Deliyski commented.
Instead, it hopes to rely on the support of the parties that emerged from last summer’s protests — the right-wing Democratic Bulgaria, polling at 12 percent, and the left-wing Stand Up! Mafia Out, with five-six percent.
“It’s time to finish what we started and change the model of governance entirely,” Trifonov said in a Facebook post, saying he hoped for a new administration run by “young people, new faces”.
But pollsters predict ITN and its preferred partners will fall short of a majority, foreseeing instead another badly fragmented legislature.
– Election fraud –
If deadlock leads to yet another election, New Bulgarian University professor Antony Todorov told AFP that “voters will tire out, their support for democracy will erode,” with extremists standing to benefit.
For the first time, voting is being conducted primarily by machine in a bid to limit voter fraud.
“It’s the first time we haven’t been to vote — with the machines it’s too complicated,” one 90-year-old voter told the BNR radio station.
The interim cabinet has set out to try to limit widespread vote buying and voter intimidation — long established political party practices which account for 5-19 percent of the vote, according to the Sofia-based Anti-Corruption Fund Foundation.
Polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and are scheduled to close at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT), with exit poll results expected shortly after.