Will snap elections bring change to Bulgaria?

Man walks past election posters in Plovdiv Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bulgaria has been undergoing a slow and painful transition since the end of Communism

Bulgaria is holding a snap election on 5 October after the Socialist-led minority government of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski stepped down on 23 July and a caretaker administration was appointed.

The move was triggered by the disastrous showing of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) in the European Parliament elections in May. However, a rift with its junior partner, the ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), is seen as the main reason for the cabinet's resignation.

The DPS were the first to call for Mr Oresharski to resign, arguing the European election results showed the government was no longer trusted.

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Image caption Anti-corruption protests have been a familiar sight in Bulgaria for the past two years

What caused cracks in the coalition?

A controversy surrounding the South Stream pipeline, meant to carry Russian gas to Western Europe via Bulgaria, played a big part in bringing about PM Oresharski's downfall.

His cabinet was criticised for moving ahead with construction of the pipeline, a project frowned upon by Brussels for breaching European Union rules on public procurement and the use of energy transport links.

In June, after pressure from the European Commission, Bulgaria announced it was stopping work on the pipeline. Brussels also temporarily froze tens of millions of euros in regional development funds for Bulgaria.

According to the Bulgarian media, this strained relations in the coalition. The Socialists are seen as pro-Russian, and the DPS, because its control of the agriculture and environment ministries, is often thought to be in charge of distributing a large chunk of EU funds.

The government's position became untenable after another pro-Russian party in parliament, the nationalist Ataka, also withdrew its support, citing among other reasons the cabinet's decision not to proceed with South Stream.

What about the banking crisis?

In June, shortly after the announcement that Sofia had stopped work on the pipeline project, the country witnessed a run on two of the country's largest banks that also heightened political uncertainty.

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Image caption Bulgaria was rocked by a banking crisis in the summer of 2014

One of them, the Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB), is where many government enterprises keep their money.

Panicked customers withdrew millions after a public spat between controversial media mogul Delyan Peevski and CCB boss Tsvetan Vasilev. The row led to allegations that the bank was involved in dubious deals.

CCB is among the main creditors of the Peevski family media empire and both men are said to be rivals for Russian tenders to build the Bulgarian sector of South Stream.

Mr Peevski was also in the news in 2013. An attempt by the government to appoint him head of the country's powerful security agency sparked year-long mass anti-corruption protests.

Who is expected to lead the country?

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Image caption Ex-PM Boiko Borisov is hinting at a broader coalition after the election

The latest polls predict that the centre-right Citizens for Bulgaria's European Development party (GERB), led by former PM Boiko Borisov, will win more than a third of the votes, followed by BSP and DPS.

Four more parties also have a chance to cross the 4% parliamentary threshold. Among them are the centre-right Reformist Bloc and the populist Bulgaria Without Censorship.

Mr Borisov has already hinted at the possibility of leading a broader coalition, perhaps even involving support from the Socialist BSP.

The polls paint a gloomy picture for those Bulgarians who seek change, as they show that the cards will be reshuffled but the main players will remain the same.

Despite prospects for being voted back in power, GERB does not enjoy overwhelming support.

The GERB government, which preceded Mr Oresharski's administration, was brought down in February 2013 by nationwide protests against low living standards and widespread corruption in the EU's poorest country.

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