Bulgaria’s Capital Eyes End to 18 Years of GERB Rule

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Picked by pro-Western parties, tech entrepreneur Vassil Terziev is set to win Sunday’s mayoral election in Sofia. But who will join him in the run-off?

Opinion polls heading into Sunday’s mayoral elections in Bulgaria put tech entrepreneur and political novice Vassil Terziev, out in front in Sofia, potentially ending 18 years of centre-right GERB rule in the capital if Terziev can maintain momentum into a likely run-off. 

Nominated by reformist coalition partners We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria, Terziev is ahead of co-ruling GERB’s surprise pick – former journalist and news director at bTV Anton Hekimyan. The choice sparked debate over bTV’s allegiance to GERB and whether Hekimyan may have massaged the channel’s political coverage prior to getting the nod for the mayoral race.

GERB leader Boyko Borissov used his own term as Sofia mayor in 2005-2009 as a springboard to the premiership, which he lost in 2021. Back in 2009, Borissov was succeeded in the capital by GERB ally Yordanka Fandakova, who bows out after Sunday’s vote.

“We don’t need another puppet,” Terziev, 45, wrote on social media on Thursday in reference to 39-year-old Hekimyan.

A survey by Alpha Research, published on Thursday, put Terziev on 29.8 per cent of the popular vote, with Hekimyan trailing on 21.1 per cent. The GERB candidate is only narrowly ahead of Vanya Grigorova, the candidate of the pro-Russian, eurosceptic Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, and The Leftists, on 20.2 per cent, signalling a potential upset. Deyan Nikolov of the pro-Russian, far-right Revival party is polling at 10.2 per cent.

The numbers mean a run-off is almost certain, between Terziev and either Hekimyan or Grigorova.

Test for fragile coalition

Sunday brings another ballot for election-weary Bulgarians, who have been subjected to five national elections since GERB’s fall from power in 2021 on the back of nationwide protests. New parties have mushroomed, splintering the popular vote and yielding a series of awkward governing alliances.

After the last parliamentary poll in April, We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria struck a deal with GERB and United Democratic Forces based on a shared ambition of taking Bulgaria into the Eurozone and the borderless Schengen area.

Compared to Frankenstein’s monster by the BSP, the fragile coalition took office in June, but its stability has been tested by the mayoral race.

A newcomer to politics, startup investor Terziev has come under fire over his family’s ties to communist-era Bulgaria’s repressive state security apparatus, a highly sensitive topic given the political influence wielded by many former agents and their alleged involvement in Russian meddling. 

Terziev, however, has presented himself as firmly pro-Western and stressed the need for lustration in Bulgarian politics.

Forty-five year-old Grigorova’s campaign has focused on inequality between Sofia districts and professional sectors and a call for greater independence of state institutions from the private sector.

GERB is under pressure in other big towns it holds, notably Plovdiv and Varna, where the party has faced years of criticism over pollution, creaking infrastructure and allegations of corruption.

Source : Balkaninsight