Ever since late May, when current head of state Rosen Plevneliev announced he wouldn’t be seeking a second term due to “personal reasons”, the political landscape in Bulgaria has turned into a low-budget knock-off of Pokémon Go. Parties have been looking for the perfect candidate in universities, city halls, or even the army. It was going slowly and boring as usual. There were, of course, some twists and turs on the way caused by not following the rules… “Be careful when you try to catch it, or it might run away!” “At a certain point in the game, you’ll be asked to join one of three teams… so you’ll need to work together with other members of your team to build up a strong defense.” But most players proved incapable of working together.
So now, just a few short months before the Bulgarian people head to the polls, there are only three presidential candidates. One of them has yet to find a running mate. The ruling center-right party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) is set to announce its frontrunner by mid September, while some say that “it would take an encyclopeadiac-length tract to record all of [GERB leader and Prime Minister] Boyko Borissov’s weathercock statements on his party’s candidate for the presidency”. The Socialist Party, the biggest opposition fraction in the parliament, has devoted a tremendeous amount of time and energy to secure a broad left coalition united behind General Rumen Radev, who has zero political experience and recently resigned as chief of the air force. The first drafts of the agreement were ready and everything seemed bright and sunny for the left, when suddenly the coalition was hit by strong turbulence. An ugly war of words in the media killed any hope of unification.
“I do feel sometimes like this campaign has entered into an alternate universe,” said Hillary Clinton on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, referring to some rumours about her health. The Bulgarian media pays ten times more attention to elections happening overseas than the ones taking places at home. It also creates an alternative reality where the average Bulgarian is mainly interested in Melania Trump’s favourite colour, rather than our next government’s geopolitical agenda. Meanwhile, the right-leaning Wall Street Journal warned Donald Trump that by Labor Day (5 September) he should start acting “presidential” or the Republican Party would have to write off the nominee as hopeless – a word many are already using to describe the situation in Bulgaria.
Maybe we’re not so different after all. Both in the US and Bulgaria, voters feel alienated and betrayed. Neoliberalism has failed them - widespread corruption, economic austerity, increasing social inequality and injustice have inevitably deepened political divides, boosted the populist and anti-establishment vote, and finally led to campaigns without candidates. Or to candidates like Trump.