Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB
The ruling centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB, is currently the largest party in the country. Formed in 2006, it draws its support mostly from the charisma and popularity of its macho leader Boyko Borisov, the current Prime Minister.
A former karate coach, an ex-fireman and a personal bodyguard of prominent public figures like Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s former communist dictator, and the formal exiled monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, Borisov initially started his political career as a top official in the Ministry of Interior. He has successfully exploited the public’s enchantment with him and was elected mayor for Sofia in 2005. A year later GERB project was launched.
GERB has so far enjoyed significant public support. The party won a clear victory in the 2009 European Parliament election, winning more than 24 per cent of the vote and sending five representatives. The party scored a triumph in the parliamentary elections a month later, gaining almost 40 per cent of the vote.
This allowed the party to abandon plans for a coalition government and form a minority cabinet. GERB enjoys the support of the nationalist party Ataka and the union of right-wing parties, the Blue Coalition, in Parliament.
GERB’s victory mainly capitalised on voters’ profound disappointment with the previous Socialist-led coalition government and their demand for
Borisov pledged to tackle rampant corruption and organised crime, to bring country’s economy back on track and to start long-anticipated reforms. While both local and foreign experts have praised Borisov’s efforts in this field, others have criticised him for a lack of action in other troubled sectors.
A year after the GERB government took over, the cabinet came under scrutiny for missing the chance to launch promised reforms and was deemed to be inconsistent in its policy-making.
Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP
The Bulgarian Socialist Party is the successor of the Bulgarian Communist Party. After the end of the communist-era, Bulgaria became the only country in Eastern Europe where the ex-communists won the majority of votes in the first free elections in 1990.
In the mid-90’s the party slowly tried to break with the past and turn into a contemporary socialist party - it had formerly been against Bulgaria’s membership in EU and NATO, but later fully embraced the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration as the main foreign policy priority.
Under the leadership of Bulgaria’s current president, Georgi Purvanov, who led the party from 1996 to 2001, the party began slowly to modernise. Later, he handed the leadership to Sergei Stanishev who tried to further reform the party and attract more young people to support the socialists.
However, their attempts faced strong opposition from the conservative communist members, as the group is internally torn by a number of old-line and reformist factions.
The first BSP government after the democratic changes resigned after social unrest and was replaced by a transitional coalition government. The Socialists came into power again in 1995. However, the government headed by Zhan Videnov brought the country to the edge of collapse and ended two years later amid massive street protests.
Not surprisingly, BSP lost the next elections in 1997, but regained power in 2005, when it won almost 31 per cent of the vote, but this was not enough to independently form a government.
After several months of difficult negotiations, BSP finally formed a three-party coalition with the National Movement for Stability and Prosperity and the ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Stanishev led the cabinet which ruled the country from 2005 to 2009.
Although during its term Bulgaria entered the EU in 2007, the BSP-led cabinet did not succeed in curbing organised crime and high-level corruption. As a result, Brussels punished Sofia by suspending hundreds of millions in EU funding.
The government has also been seen as incompetent with uncontrolled budget spending at the end of its term, in addition to the world economic crisis, further destabilising the country’s economy.
The party is led by Stanishev and is one of the leading opposition parties.
The Blue Coalition is an electoral union of centre-right parties with the leading Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), the first democratic party after the end of the communist era in 1989, and the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB).
Before founding DSB in 2004, Ivan Kostov was UDF’s leader for seven years and the head of its government which ruled the country between 1997 and 2001. However, he stepped down as party leader after failing to win a second term. Due to some internal conflicts about UDF’s future development, Kostov left the party and launched his own – DSB.
Through the years UDF has experienced several similar splits, which has hit hard the democrats’ image. The influence of the right-wing parties has eroded in recent years amid dwindling public support.
After their failure in the first European Parliament elections in 2007 when none of the them won a seat, UDF, DSB and other right-wing political players decided to start talks on unification.
The current coalition was formed last year, just before two major elections for members of the local and the European Parliaments.
However, the coalition’s score in both votes was more than humble. In the European Parliament election the Blue Coaliton won almost eight per cent of the votes and earned just one seat in the European Parliament.
One month later the union scored 6.76 per cent of the popular vote or 15 seats in the 240-seat Parliament. The coalition is currently a partner of the ruling centre-right party European Development of Bulgaria, GERB which managed to form a minority government.
However, the union often criticises the government when it disagrees with its policies.
Movement for Rights and Freedom, MRF
The party, which is largely supported by the ethnic Turkish minority, was founded in 1990 by Ahmed Dogan who has been its leader even since. Although Dogan is deemed as one of the most controversial names within Bulgaria’s contemporary political scene, MRF has been playing a key role in the governance of the country since the fall of communism.
The establishment of the party came as a direct response to the assimilation policies towards the ethnic Turks in the country during the communist era. It aimed to restore the identity of the minority and to protect its rights, which had been severely abused before the democratic changes.
Public outrage with MRF has been growing in recent years, with the party often accused of nurturing ties with a close circle of companies whose interests have been protected by MRF members. This public attitude has been successfully exploited by the nationalist party, Ataka, which is anti-Turk orientated.
In 1992, together with the Bulgarian Socialist Party, MRF supported an expert cabinet led by Luyben Berov.
The party was a junior partner in the government in 2001 led by the ex-king Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha and his party, the National Movement for Stability and Progress (NDSV). Four years later MRF won just more than 14 per cent of the votes, becoming the third-biggest political party in the country. Together with NDSV, the party joined the three-party coalition under the Socialist Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev.
Last year at the European Parliament elections it won more than 14 per cent of the votes and sent three people to the European Parliament. Although Dogan warned no government would be formed without the participation of his party, GERB scored a victory at the general elections which allowed it to form a minority cabinet. Currently, for the first time in eight years MRF is in opposition.
Ataka Party, (Attack)
Although the far-right party was founded just months before the 2005 general elections, it won almost nine per cent of the vote, giving it 21 representatives in the 240-seat Parliament. It had largely gained support by focusing its pre-election campaign on anti-Turk and anti-Roma messages.
Ataka could be considered a media party, as it originated from a local cable television show with the same name. Its leader, Volen Siderov, has for years been building a core of supporters by spreading racist and xenophobic messages through the tv screen, his nationalist rhetoric being aimed mainly against Roma and Turkish monitories in the country.
In addition the party feeds on the growing public anger towards ethnic Turkish minority Movement for Rights and Freedom and people’s discontentment with the mainstream parties. As expected, it opposes Turkey joining the EU and wants Bulgaria to leave NATO.
Ataka’s candidate Siderov came second in the presidential elections at the end of 2006, losing the race to the current president, Georgi Parvanov.
In last year elections for the European Parliament, Ataka won almost 12 per cent of the vote or two seats.
Ataka is currently the biggest supporter of the ruling centre-right party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB, in the parliament. Hoping to obtain some political gains, the party backs almost all of GERB’s moves.