“There Are Such People” in Bulgaria’s Parliament

“There Are Such People” in Bulgaria’s Parliament

The new Bulgarian party There are Such People (ITN), led by the former late-night TV show host Slavi Trifonov and his screenwriters, entered the political scene with a bang. It secured more than 17 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections, but curiously refused to form a government when given the mandate. The party also did not participate in any traditional media campaigns instead choosing to utilise social media platforms. It is important to understand the rise of ITN as well as what this political phenomenon means for political life in Bulgaria, given the upcoming snap parliamentary elections in July.

The results from the Bulgarian parliamentary elections in April were a culmination of many civil frustrations going back to the wide-spread anti-government protests of summer 2020. Combined with the circumstances of the pandemic, the electoral outcome was both somewhat expected and surprising. The two traditional frontrunner parties Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) achieved predictable percentages – GERB still won with 25 percent of the vote, but their numbers overall have plummeted given the disillusionment of the electorate with the party’s governing during the pandemic as well as in relation to the scandals of last year. BSP usually relies on the vote of the elderly, which has decreased given that the older population barely voted due to Covid-19. The surprise came with the so-called protest parties – ITN (17 percent), Democratic Bulgaria (9 percent) and Stand-up! Mafia, Get Out! (4 percent). ITN became the second political power in the country and went radio silent, presumably due to the realisation that what was essentially a TV show crew just last year could now govern the state.  

The rise of There are Such People

To contextualise the electoral success of ITN it is important to examine their campaigning. Slavi Trifonov has been dipping his toes into politics for years. His first taste of it came in 2016 when he secured a national referendum related to changing the electoral system and introducing online voting. Similarly, on his show, which had a sizable viewership for decades and was on one of the biggest Bulgarian TV channels, he often preached to the masses about the failures of the government and what could be changed. This allowed him to develop a much stronger rapport with people which was also supplemented by his music career. Trifonov has 22 albums and has managed to sell out arenas both domestically and abroad. This is significant in relation to the Bulgarian diaspora, who overwhelmingly voted for ITN, because it is likely they would feel a closer connection to Trifonov than to other political figures due to the wide reach of this career in entertainment.

Trifonov is also wary of making definitive statements on polarising issues such as the hot topic of the moment in Southeast Europe and the EU, which is Bulgaria’s veto on North Macedonia’s ascendance into the EU. While Trifonov has mentioned he finds some actions by FYROM officials questionable on Facebook back in November of last year, it is still yet to be seen whether the party is going to release an official statement on the “Macedonian Question”. The original name of Trifonov’s party There is no Such State is also indicative of an alluring pessimistic outlook which is attractive to a disillusioned electorate and ultimately secured him the votes whether he expected it or not.

Post-Election Blues

Regardless of all his preparation for entering politics, Trifonov and ITN appeared taken aback on election night. While representatives from all the other parties were jumping from one TV program to another, Trifonov went silent. The party released a statement on Facebook that he had contacted Covid-19 and was quarantining, and thus far his only appearance in parliament has been when he was sworn in on video chat. His public presence ceased altogether and even after his quarantine ended there are only a few videos of him released on the party’s Youtube channel.

Given that no party secured a majority after the vote and that the former ruling party GERB did not manage to secure a coalition with which to achieve the needed numbers to form a government, the mandate to rule was given to ITN by the President as the second biggest party in Parliament. Trifonov’s refusal to accept this mandate triggered a procedure for the issuing of snap elections in July, where the hope is for a more definitive outcome. This maneuver is indicative of a new chapter in Bulgarian politics in terms of a post-GERB transition where the political system is stuck between the fleeting grasp of the old elite and the insecurity and inexperience of the newcomers. 

Expectations for July

Trifonov’s decision could have a twofold impact on ITN’s chances of electoral success in the snap elections. On the one hand, his reasoning that he did not want to compromise on his party’s agenda by forming a coalition just so that he could govern might appear as brave and could encourage people to vote for his seemingly not power-hungry party. On the other hand, his silence coupled with the refusal to take responsibility could be seen by his supporters as cowardly and feeling betrayed, they might decide to switch to other protest parties such as Democratic Bulgaria. Post-election polling from April suggests a close race between GERB and INT in July, but given the short time span, figures might be misleading.

In either case, it appears that ITN would be more comfortable continuing to be in opposition rather than in power. This is nowhere more evident than from Trifonov’s most recent statement on Facebook where he explained that he himself will not be running for parliament, but instead alluded to involvement in the following presidential elections in the autumn. Given that it is unlikely ITN would secure an outright majority, Trifonov might end up continuing the trend of “President in opposition”, a staple for Bulgarian politics under the current BSP-backed President Rumen Radev.  


The rise of There Are Such People is indicative of a major change in the political landscape of Bulgaria whether they secure a big part of the vote in July or not. This crossover between entertainment and politics seems to have resonated with the electorate, which finally put its foot down and showed that it was done with the lengthy GERB rule in a more meaningful way than through civil unrest. But while the “such” people are ready for change, the question now stands if “such” parties are willing to make that change happen. 

Categories: Europe, Politics

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