World, Europe

Bulgaria votes to choose new government

Election occurs amid dispute with Ankara over attempts to prevent Turkey-based Bulgarians from crossing border to vote

26.03.2017
Bulgaria votes to choose new government

By Erkan Avci and Ihvan Radoykov

SOFIA

Bulgarians head to the ballot box for snap parliamentary elections on Sunday amid concerns over far-right groups’ attempts to prevent Turkey-based Bulgarians from crossing the border to vote.

More than 6.5 million voters are eligible to elect their new government.

Thirteen political parties and nine coalitions are competing for the 240 seats in the national assembly amid a period of political instability.

Indeed, since May 2013, Bulgarian citizens have cast their vote five times in general, European, local and presidential elections as well as in two referendums.

Opinion polls indicate the likelihood of a coalition government in the EU's poorest country.

The latest opinion polls conducted by Afis show former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Sociaist Party leader Kornelia Ninova neck-and-neck.

The right-wing populist alliance, the United Patriots, which has tried to attract voters with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, is predicted to remain below 10 percent of the vote.


Tensions with Turkey

Bulgarian expats living in Turkey have started to cast their votes at polling stations in Turkey’s Izmit, Gebze and Edirne.

The election takes place amid tensions between Ankara and Sofia over claims that Turkey is interfering in the election by favoring the Democrats for Responsibility, Freedom and Tolerance (DOST) coalition.

DOST, which means "close friend" in Turkish, generally has ethnic Turks or Muslims among its members.

On Friday, right-wing activists staged a demonstration in Bulgaria’s Kapitan Andreevo area due to block expat Bulgarian voters living in Turkey from taking part in the voting process.

The demonstrators, many brandishing anti-Turkey banners and Bulgarian flags, blocked traffic at the border, forcing passengers from Turkey to disembark from buses and walk across the frontier on foot.

Bulgaria has also issued a new law limiting the number of ballot boxes for Bulgarians living in Turkey to 35 -- for an estimated 500,000 expat residents -- a move the Turkish Foreign Ministry said was intended to hinder ethnic Turkish Bulgarians from voting.

Bulgaria has a large Turkish minority of about 10 percent, according to official census figures.

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