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A reflection of the shifts underscoring the national political landscape during the past year
The second round of Bulgaria’s local elections determined the final allocation of mayoral seats across the country. Following some heated battles, it’s now clear that the three main cities – Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna – will all get a new leader at the helm of government.
What’s interesting about Varna and Plovdiv was that in each of them, the two candidates who faced off on Sunday represented the two parties ruling together at the national level. That governing coalition, composed of We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria (PP-DB) and GERB, however, has been rife with tension, sabotaging and unease right from the start. In fact, inside Bulgaria, the partnership has sardonically been referred to as a “non-coalition” or “sglobka” (a hard-to-translate word, which describes the forced assembly of very different components).
The local elections served as a release of pressure as they finally gave the two parties the chance to air out their differences and meet at the electoral front as open rivals. Previously, the three main cities were all ruled by GERB mayors, but now that party has only managed to retain its hold on Plovdiv. Let’s look into the
Runoff results in Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna
The most heated electoral battle took place in the capital city of Sofia, where Vassil Terziev (PP-DB) faced off against Vanya Grigorova, a far-left populist candidate. Traditionally, Sofia has always been a pro-Western oriented and right-wing city, so it was a surprise that virtually until late last night it was still unclear whether it would wake up on Monday with a far-left and pro-Russian mayor.
Ultimately, Vassil Terziev won 48.2% against 46.9% for Grigorova, a difference which in absolute terms meant only a difference of 4,500 ballots. Mr Terziev is a successful tech businessman, running on a platform of change and progress with a vision to turn Sofia into a more European-looking city, yet his opponent’s anti-corporative stance also found a warm response, showing that social class divisions in Sofia have deepened in recent years. Before that, the city had been governed by GERB for 18 years.
GERB, which is a pro-Western party yet one with a tarnished reputation due to numerous corruption scandals nevertheless managed to retain its stance and influence in most of the mid-tier cities in the country and even comfortably snatched, the country’s second-largest – Plovdiv. There, Kostadin Dimitrov won 54.2% against Ivaylo Staribratov’s (PP-DB) 41.7%.
Varna, also known as the Bulgarian sea capital, however, was taken by Blagomir Kotsev (PP-DB), who unseated GERB’s incumbent mayor Ivan Portnih with 53.1% against 41.5%. The new mayor announced that he will institute a once-a-month open-doors policy, which will allow citizens to question him directly on his work.
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