Mediapool Weekly: Local elections 2019 (October 26 – November 3)

Yordanka Fandakova wins fourth term as Sofia mayor

GERB leads overall but loses significant number of votes across the country

The current mayor of Sofia and deputy chairwoman of ruling party GERB, Yordanka Fandakova won the mayoral seat and will enter her fourth term as mayor. According to the polling data Fandakova won with 50% to 45% for Maya Manolova. Fandakova first became Sofia mayor after current PM Boyko Borissov and then-Sofia mayor stepped down to become PM.

The first round of the local elections in Bulgaria finished with an overall advantage for the ruling party GERB in the larger cities. Although keeping in the lead, however, GERB registered a consistent decline of the number of votes it won across the board compared to the last local elections in 2015. Most large cities had a second round of elections,

The capital, Sofia, which is arguably the stronghold of GERB’s rule, had a second round for the first time in a decade. In the first round Fandakova won 37% to runner up Maya Manolova 28%. Fandakova’s votes are 100’000 less than the total number she won in 2015. Also in 2015, she managed to win the mayoral elections with 60% on the first round with the runner-up managing less than 10%.

The third and fourth place in Sofia went to the candidate of the non-parliamentary opposition Democratic Bulgaria, Borislav Ignatov (12%) and the independent Borislav Bonev (11%). Bonev, who is co-founder of the NGO Save Sofia has been very active and vocal in its criticism of Fandakova’s government over the past years. He attracted a lot of young voters, while Ignatov secured Democratic Bulgaria’s base for the most part. One notable exception is from the Green Movement’s voters, which is one of the parties on the coalition. The two far-right nationalist candidates, Volen Siderov of ATAKA and Angel Dzhambazki of VMRO won a little over 5% combined but both managed to win plenty seats in the municipal council, given the relatively low support for the mayoral candidates. ATAKA will have 2 members in the council, VMRO – 4.

The second round of elections in Sofia saw a larger turnout than in the first by several points. This is not so much due to the mayoral candidates – the overwhelming vote in the first round was against the status quo, but Fandakova’s alternative apparently disappointed many voters. The fights for the district mayoral seats, however, gave a reason for many of the voters, who did not particularly prefer neither Manolova or Fandakova – to go to the polling stations. Democratic Bulgaria's district candidates won in 8 run-offs, three are independent one - from the Bulgarian Socialist Party. GERB won 12 district mayoral seats.   

Fandakova and GERB in general will definitely have a harder time in the next four years, as the ruling party failed to secure a steady majority in Sofia’s municipal council. GERB lost three seats compared to 2015, and will have 27 members. It will likely look for support in the six far-right members for support in the future. Democratic Bulgaria won 12 seats in the council, Boris Bonev will be a council member as well. The other 15 seats go to GERB’s parliamentary opposition, the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

Across the country GERB managed to remain in power in Plovdiv and Varna but lost Rouse, Blagoevgrad and Yambol.

Plovdiv will have a new mayor but again from GERB. Initial polls say Zdravko Dimitrov won 55% of the votes against the runner up Slavcho Atanassov with 39%.

In Varna the current payor Ivan Portnih from GERB won the elections in the second round with 60% to 36, according to the first exit polls.

In almost all districts in Plovdiv and Varna there was a run-off for the mayoral seat.

bTV fined for elections coverage

On the day of the vote during the first round of the elections bTV reported several cases of vote buying and discussed some of the more pressing political issues, especially the election of the only candidate for Prosecutor General, Ivan Geshev. The network did not reveal where the voter buying took place before the official end of the election day (as the law requires), nor where the Central Elections Committee found bTV had broken the law. All political campaigning in Bulgaria is banned on election day and on the day before.

PM Boyko Borissov was openly upset and agitated at bTV for the coverage, refusing to answer any questions by reporters in the media after election day. The ruling party filed a formal complaint with the committee, which announced a day later it will fine bTV for airing forbidden content. According to GERB, by airing reports about local problems and voter buying is an “indirect form of persuasion [of voters] regarding their ultimate decision for whom to vote”.

GERB’s PR office issued a statement comparing bTV’s reporting with one of the most notable and elections-related fraud in the last 30 years. One GERB MP suggested bTV register in the next elections if its goal is to make a political campaign.

bTV is the only one of the three major TV networks in the country currently out of governmental influence. Last week the current owner of bTV, the Central European Media Enterprises and Czech billionaire Petr Kellner’s investment fund have reached a final agreement for the purchase of bTV for 2,1 billion dollars.

Kellner tried to buy the next private TV channel, NOVA TV but the deal was blocked by the antimonopoly commission on vague and questionable grounds. NOVA ws brought by an infamous Bulgarian businessman with close ties to the government.

After Kellner failed to purchase NOVA TV news emerged that he will attempts to buy bTV. Since this time the deal involves a multinational package, it will be assessed not by the national regulator but the European Commission instead.

Bulgaria ranks 111 in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index with most of the media organizations tied to or dependent on the government and an infamous group of government-supportive elites.

President Roumen Radev talks about vote buying, PM Boyko Borissov calls him deranged

President Roument Radev and PM Boyko Borissov clashed again on election day via the media. Radev told reporters he is very concerned with reports of vast voter buying across the country. This angered Borissov, who expressed an opinion that Radev is deranged and that “apparently the elections are fair only when Radev wins them”. Borissov also suggested Radev suffers from the company of the women from the left.

“A man, surrounded by [Bulgarian Socialist Party leader] Korneliya Ninova, Maya Manolova, Tatyana Doncheva, Elena Yoncheva – they made the man crazy. We should show understanding. I just don’t envy him. What’s going on around him is insane.”

The PM accused Radev of campaigning on elections day. Asked if Borissov isn’t doing the same, he answered he was not campaigning but only answering questions. The question agitated him and he walked away from the reporters for a brief time, repeating twice that “if I’m campaigning, then this [press briefing] is over”.

The two also clashed before the second round on the sensitive subject of the election of Ivan Geshev for the next Prosecutor General. Protests against the only candidate for Prosecutor General and his subsequent election have been ongoing since July. After the Supreme Judicial Council voted 20:4 in favor, the protesters’ message turned to Radev, who must sign off on the appointment. If Radev decides to exercise his veto power the procedure will restart at the Supreme Judicial Council.

Radev accused Borissov of transferring responsibility to Radev regarding Geshev. He pointed out that Borissov has significant influence over the Supreme Judicial Council, to which Borissov responded Radev’s remarks are not in line with the rule of law.

Both were keen to distance themselves from the election of Geshev before the local elections, especially Borissov, whose government represents the establishment, which is seen as responsible for Geshev.

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