Rule of law Bulgaria

Parliamentary Elections in Bulgaria and the Rule of Law

Democracy Reporting International would like to thank Milena Kadieva from Gender Alternatives Foundation and Iveta Cherneva for assistance in preparing this report

Bulgaria will hold its early parliamentary election on Sunday, 2 April, electing all 240 members of the Народно събрание (National Assembly), its one-chamber parliament. Bulgaria uses a proportional representation system with a required electoral threshold at 5%.

It is the fifth parliamentary election in the country over the course of two years, following three elections in 2021 and one in 2022. This situation, highly unusual for an EU Member State, is caused by the lack of a stable majority in the parliament with no prospects for a “grand coalition” arrangement that could see the two major opposing political forces – GERB (led by former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov) and We Continue The Change (led by former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov) work together. Notably, both parties, as well as the Democratic Bulgaria party, which runs in the 2023 vote jointly with We Continue The Change, are pro-European. Other notable parties on the ballot include DPS – Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a party that aims to represent the significant Turkish minority in Bulgaria, and Revival, an ultra-nationalistic and Eurosceptic party.

Rule of Law Issues Pushed by a Single Party

Economy, inflation and the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine were the key items on the political agenda during the campaign. The rule of law issues were primarily featured by the We Continue the Change – Democratic Bulgaria coalition, whose major political point of interest is to reform the country towards improving the rule of law and to eliminate corruption. GERB – the party in power while the rule of law situation in the country deteriorated – downplayed the corruption issue. A major event during the election campaign was the United States sanctioning a group of Bulgarian politicians and businesspersons under The Magnitsky Act, including a former finance minister in two GERB-led governments.

The Rule of Law, at a Standstill

The situation of the judiciary, corruption, media freedom and checks & balances in the country has not changed significantly since the previous parliamentary and presidential elections which Democracy Reporting International covered:

These analyses retain their value, as the situation has not improved to a noticeable degree. The governments formed by an ultimately dissolved coalition led by We Continue the Change party made moves towards addressing the most pressing issues in the country, but the changes insofar have not been significant. One situation emblematic of the problems faced in reforming the Bulgarian legal system is the continued presence of Ivan Geshev as the Prosecutor General, a highly controversial figure. NGOs, such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, have questioned Geshev’s impartiality as a prosecutor, accusing him of targeting people for ideological reasons. His appointment in 2019 sparked mass street protests, as did a controversial raid on the President’s offices in 2020. 

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This work is supported by

Stiftung Mercator