Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No Clear Path Forward for Bulgaria after Election Split

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No Clear Path Forward for Bulgaria after Election Split

Article excerpt

The discovery of hundreds of thousands of illegal ballot papers has thrown an already complex Bulgarian election into turmoil. The situation was already messy enough - with a governing party that resigned in February during street protests topping a highly- divided field.

But with mounting suspicions of fraud, hopes that the election might end a period of political chaos are distrust are fading.

Protesters gathered in central Sofia last night after a report that a police raid had turned up 350,000 unregistered ballot papers in a factory in western Bulgaria. The company involved, contracted to print the ballot papers, has denied wrongdoing, but allegations are already flying about its owner's political links to GERB, the rightist party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who resigned in February.

The GERB-led government and opposition both accused the other of vote-rigging. The scandal threatens to taint what was already a controversial and hotly-contested vote.

According to preliminary reports of Bulgaria's Central Electoral Commission (CEC) based on 96 percent of the processed tally, it seems likely that the next parliament will consist of four largely mutually antipathetic parties: GERB with 30.7 percent of the popular vote; the former communist Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) with 27 percent; the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), largely supported by Bulgaria's Muslim minority with 10.6 percent; and the ultranationalist Ataka (Attack) with 7.4 percent.

The lack of a clear winning party or bloc means another election might prove necessary, perhaps in the fall.

"It's an extremely difficult situation," says Daniel Smilov, at the Centre for Liberal Strategies, a Sofia think-tank. "We can't exclude another election soon."

A hung parliament?

Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union, and public discontent about rising energy bills, poverty, corruption and government heavy-handedness has been growing. …

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