All for a photo: Boyko Borisov's downfall in Bulgaria

Questions continue to be raised about the Bulgarian prime minister's reputation


A glimmer of hope seems to have emerged in Bulgaria with the victory of the newly created We Continue the Change party. After twelve years with Boyko Borisov at the head of parliament and dozens of corruption cases behind him, this new anti-corruption party has won the third legislative elections in the Eastern European country so far this year.

Bulgaria went to the polls for the third time this year on Sunday. The inability to create a government after the first two rounds of elections in April and July has brought Bulgarians back to the polls. This time marked by weariness at the inability of their representatives to reach an agreement, and by a new wave of COVID-19 that made it clear that, whatever the result, after the elections "everything would close again", it was read on social networks.

Images of corruption

Stefan (name changed at the request of the source) has sent a link, which takes you to a Facebook post. It is a series of four photographs. Boyko Borisov, still prime minister of Bulgaria, is shown in them, lying on a bed half-naked. Next to the bed, a bedside table with a pistol and bundles of 500-euro notes in the drawer. "It's happened again," says the young man, as this is not the first time that the Bulgarian leader has been confronted with photos of this kind. The same, but with a young woman sleeping next to him, were published in June last year, which cost Borisov one of the biggest crises against his figure.

Borisov declared the next morning that he knew who was responsible for the images and had already taken action. And, as he did in 2020, he assures that they are a set-up. "The mafia has him under control and they are showing it," says the young Stefan, "[Borisov] knows that there is no choice for him outside of politics. He either ends up dead or behind bars. He's trying to get out of it as best he can, but it's impossible. He's in too much shit," says the young man.

Scenes from The Godfather aside. The former leader of Bulgaria for more than ten years and his respective party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), have dozens of corruption cases on their hands. Whether the photographs are authentic or a crude montage, they only show something that the population already knows, and for which it has been on the streets calling for the resignation of Borisov and his House for more than a year. And not the photos, but the high rates of corruption, as well as the ever-increasing rate of people being forced to leave the country due to lack of opportunities, are the factors that have led to the new parties that emerged this year winning the parliament on Sunday.

An electoral circle that seemed to go on forever

On Sunday 15 November, the day woke up undecided. In this third round of elections, not only was the national representative in parliament being voted for, but for the first time the legislative elections coincided with the presidential elections. The polls showed GERB winning the parliamentary elections, albeit by a narrow margin. As for the presidency, the same predictions again gave victory to Rumen Radev, the country's president since 2017. For their part, the population, already fed up with this electoral crisis that has dragged on since the beginning of 2020, had little faith in the results. The day ended with a 40% turnout, the lowest in thirty years for both decisions.

"I'm going to vote Democratic Bulgaria" replies the Stefan when asked who he is voting for. "It's a coalition of Da Bulgaria, the Green Movement and Democrats for a strong Bulgaria, with a liberal vision," explains the hopeful young man. One of the few, turnout figures have shown.

The country's political landscape has always been dominated by the conservative GERB party, in power since 2009, and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). However, this year this same scenario has been stalled by the inability of the parties with the most votes to reach an agreement to form a coalition, which has meant that these legislative elections have had to be repeated three times. The first elections were held in April and saw a sharp fall of the traditional parties, GERB and BSP, as well as the emergence in Parliament of the anti-corruption forces There is Such a People (ITN) and Democratic Bulgaria (DB). These results made a coalition government between GERB, BSP and ITN necessary to govern, but the negotiations went nowhere, leading to new elections in July.

In this second round of elections, ITN overtook Borisov's GERB, having a chance to govern together with the two other anti-corruption parties DB and ISMV, the "Stand Up! Mafia, Get Out!" coalition. Negotiations again failed and led to the third elections in a year.
"I see more and more young people being very neutral towards the period, which is very interesting because there is an unexplored list," says Aleksander Dimitrov, a researcher at Bulgaria's University of National and World Economy and a member of the Socialist Party. The EU's poorest country has a population divided between those who look back on the socialist past with nostalgia and the younger generation with a more liberal outlook. However, both sides have been united for the past year in the face of a common enemy: corruption.

Borisov's photographs were the straw that broke the camel's back in a long list of cases that the prosecutor's office had kept on file. The fact is that seeing your prime minister in such circumstances, whether they are authentic or not, sets a precedent. These images show the face of corruption in Bulgaria, and Bulgarians are fed up with it, "if no one wants to see the naked truth we will continue to be naked, robbed and lied to. The new photos from Borisov's bedroom are a reason to reflect once again on the question 'Is there a prosecutor's office in Bulgaria'," a publication in which the pictures of the prime minister appear said.

A picture is worth a thousand words

In June 2020, the first batch of images sparked months of anti-government demonstrations and sit-ins outside Congress. Without respite. As late as last September, the protesters' tents were still there, headed by placards calling for Borisov's resignation. The shouts were of little use then, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

Six days ago the television programme Eurodikoff made public the second batch of images of the political leader asleep next to a gun and wads of banknotes. The programme claimed to have received these images along with a letter entitled 'BB - Nature' which read: "The naked truth about a Bulgarian political leader! One day before the anniversary of 10 November 1989 and less than a week before the elections, it is good to remember how and why we lost 12 of the last 32 years [...] We waited more than a year to see if someone in the prosecutor's office could check how and why a Bulgarian prime minister organised robberies in all economic sectors [...] if we do not show him on Sunday that his place is out of power and in jail, there may not be a next chance!"

And so it has been, Bulgarians have voted for an unexpected change. Thus, the newly formed "We Continue the Change" (WCC) party, formed by former interim cabinet ministers Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev, won the lion's share of Sunday's votes.

The WCC received 25.5 % of popular support, ahead of the GERB-Union of Democratic Forces electoral coalition of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, which won 22.8 %. The third force was the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a party with a Turkish majority, with 13.2 %. The Bulgarian Socialist Party had to settle for fourth place with 10.3 %, ahead of the ITN party with 9.6 %. The centre-right Democratic Bulgaria coalition came in sixth place with 6.2 %.

This new party, led by Kiril Petkov, must now sit down to negotiate if it wants to form a government. Its potential allies are the Socialists and Democratic Bulgaria. However, the latter have already warned that they will not enter into a pact with the Bulgarian Socialist Party. "Left, centre or right, it doesn't matter," Petkov explained as the polls closed on Sunday. "If we can stop [corruption] and redistribute money for the welfare of taxpayers, then we should be able to reach an agreement with various parties," he said.

But the elections are not over for the citizens of Bulgaria. The presidential elections have not been final either and will have to be repeated on 21 November, as the current president, Rumen Radev, has not won a sufficient majority to remain in office. Radev, an independent candidate backed by the BSP, will face off against GERB-backed Anastas Gerdzhikov in a week's time.