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Divided Over Ukraine, Bulgaria Votes for Fifth Time in Two Years

Bulgarians head to the polls on Sunday for the fifth time in two years, with the EU’s poorest member — traditionally close to Moscow — divided over the invasion of Ukraine.

The war has exacerbated the political turmoil gripping the Balkan country since 2020, when months of anti-corruption protests shook longtime conservative prime minister Boyko Borisov.

A series of elections followed, with the latest threatening to return yet another fragmented parliament unable to form a stable government.

“We break the record for number of elections,” said analyst Daniel Smilov from the Centre for Liberal Strategies.

Opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s vote predict a low turnout, with many in the capital Sofia not hiding their anger and disillusion.

Aleksandra Kirova, who took part in 2020’s mass demonstrations calling for change, told AFP she would not even vote this time.

“I realised something rather rash was going on (during the protests). The logic was, ‘Let’s topple these and then we’ll see,'” said the 41-year-old, who returned to Bulgaria after completing a doctorate degree in France.

“We just set a ticking bomb. What we see now is the result,” she said, adding that she now focused on her family to “distance myself emotionally” from the pain of politics.

– Pro-Russian feeling –

According to the latest polls, Borisov’s GERB party is running neck-and-neck at around 25 percent with the pro-western reformist We Continue the Change (PP).

Led by Harvard-educated Kiril Petkov, 42, who was briefly premier in 2022, the PP has joined forces with the small right-wing coalition Democratic Bulgaria.

But if either bloc is to form a government they are likely to need partners from “parties whose image has been tainted by suspicions of corruption,” Smilov told AFP, “or whose position towards Ukraine is problematic.”

The ultra-nationalist Vazrazhdane party, which is rising in the polls, and the Socialist BSP, heir of the former communists, have defended the Kremlin since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Many in the NATO member look to the east, revering Russia as the country that ended five centuries of Ottoman rule in 1878.

The country’s pro-Russian President Rumen Radev, who has appointed interim cabinets between the string of elections, has denounced Petkov and his allies as “war mongers”.

He has also spoken out against sending weapons to Ukraine.

At the same time, Bulgaria’s munitions factories have been running at full capacity making ammunition for Kiev that is exported via third countries.

– Undermining credibility –

“Political turbulence could continue for another year or two,” said Dobromir Zhivkov, head of the research agency Market Links, warning that this could further undermine Bulgaria’s credibility.

Sofia has already had to forgo its target of joining the euro in 2024 and is also still waiting for the full amount of European funds from the post-Covid recovery plan.

Accession to the free-travel Schengen zone was again postponed after objections from the Netherlands and Austria, which were concerned about migrant flows.

To top it all, the five elections have cost the country a fortune. The bill is estimated to be more than 400 million leva (204 million euros) — roughly the annual budget of the country’s culture ministry.

Source : Yahoo!News