Bulgarian Elections and the other side of populism

The outcome of the recent Bulgarian presidential elections has surprised several people. The victory of Rumen Radev, the independent candidate supported by the Socialist Party, has come as a shock to some.

In this general atmosphere of change, several Western countries have shifted to the right of the political spectrum. With politicians such as Nigel Farage in the UK, Donald Trump in the US and Marine Le Pen in France, several wonder about the future of contemporary politics.

However, some countries in Eastern Europe are turning back to the left-wing. Slovakia, Moldova and Bulgaria are just some examples of this trend. This alternative, although going to an opposite direction, is also a sign to the general shift to anti-establishment parties.

Alex Gordon is the President of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union and a left-wing activist. He says: “I think that what is happening in Eastern Europe, in countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union and those with similar ideas, is a certain nostalgia for socialism. They are losing a lot of their young, most educated and most skilled people because they move to other countries. They are struggling with their own sustainability.”

Bulgaria had its presidential elections just last month, on November 6, and a recount on the weekend after.

The now former Prime Minister of Bulgaria is Boyko Borisov. A month before the elections, he promised that if his fellow GERB member and presidential candidate, Tsetska Tsacheva lost, he would resign.

Rumen Radev, despite having no political background, won the elections with a high percentage of the vote. This forced Borisov to resign on 14th November. The next election will be held in a three months’ time and a temporary government is in control for now.

President Elect Rumen Radev


Professor Veronika Stoyanova is a PhD Candidate and Teaching Assistant at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at University of Kent. She believes that the elections in Bulgaria are not an isolated episode, but part of a pattern.

“What people seem to want at the moment is a party that will challenge the status quo. Any politician that promises to do that will have an advantage against someone who promises stability.”

Many Bulgarians fear what the change in president will mean for their country. The Socialist Party gaining power is a significant change, and they are facing a period of uncertainty due to the temporary government.

Professor Stoyanova says:

“It is not going to have a big impact in the sense that he is an independent candidate, not an actual member of the Socialist Party. Even if he was, though, the Party is only nominally – formally – socialist. Second, it made no difference who was actually backing him up; his rhetoric and promises of social change are what people want. It was a protest vote against the current government.”

Dr. Nevena Nancheva is a lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the School of Social And Behavioural Sciences at Kingston University. She says: “It definitely fits with the global populist trends at the moment. There are two things that are important: low voter turnout and support for non-establishment candidates.”

Another concern is the future of their relation with other countries. Rumen Radev has been labelled as pro-Russia and anti-NATO. He is in favour of lifting the sanctions against Russia, which were enforced due to the invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Radev has also showed his doubts on the European Union.

“The views of Rumen Radev about Bulgaria’s relations with Russia and the NATO allies have been exaggerated. He wants to be a distanced member of NATO, but still a member,” explains Professor Stoyanova.

“There is a message being sent across: the possibility to open dialogue, which is different from the stands taken by the outgoing president. However, this should not be decisive. By all means, Bulgaria is still bounded by international agreements, and it is a tight road to be walked when it comes to balancing affiliations with Western security structures and pro-Russian tendencies of this particular President Elect,” says Dr. Nancheva.

Politicians need to adapt to what the public wants. And at the moment, voters seem keen to change the current system. Both the far-right and far-left alternatives are being used at the moment: the difference is on the history and the region of each individual country.

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