Proportional representation causes political deadlock in Bulgaria

Proportional representation causes political deadlock in Bulgaria

No clear winner emerged in Bulgaria’s second parliamentary election in three months last Sunday, and the European Union’s poorest country risks slipping into chaos.

The anti-establishment party led by pop singer Slavi Trifonov beat three-time prime minister Boyko Borissov and claimed the right to form a government; but doing so won’t be an easy task. Based on results, Trifonov’s There Is Such a People party won 24.08% over the center-right GERB, with 23.51%.

Statements made by party leaders suggest that no one really wants to work with anyone; and even if they tried to do so, the new parliamentary geography makes forming a viable anti-systemic government impossible.

The system of proportional representation has been a disaster. The “fair” distribution of seats is preventing the formation of a stable government. Barring some drastic development, no number of ballots will lead to a stable government as long as this electoral system remains. A debate has already started on installing a system of reinforced proportional representation, which gives bonus seats to the top party in order to facilitate the formation of governments.

As far as Greece is concerned, the lingering political instability in Bulgaria can only spell trouble. On top of being a friend, a NATO ally and an EU partner, Bulgaria also hosts thousands of Greek companies. Also, key projects such as the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) gas pipeline are at risk of delays. Finally, there is justified concern in the EU and NATO given Bulgaria’s role as a key geopolitical hub in Southeastern Europe and the Black Sea.

A way out of the current impasse, Western diplomats say, could be European and US support for a minority government, an idea put forward by the unpredictable Trifonov, so as to avoid a fresh round of elections and further division.

The 7.5 billion euros that Bulgaria is to receive for its post-Covid recovery could serve as a carrot. For that money to reach Sofia though, there must be an government capable of managing it.

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