Electoral Bulletins of the European Union
Municipal election in Sofia, 29 October 2023
Issue #4


Issue #4


Desislava Kalcheva

Issue 4, January 2024

Elections in Europe: 2023

The local elections in the Municipality of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, took place on October 29, 2023, with the second round for the election of the municipality and district mayors being held on November 5, 2023. In the first round, the members of the municipal council and some district mayors were elected. The second round featured a runoff between the candidates for mayor of the municipality and for most district mayors.

The current report is divided into three main parts and a conclusion. The first part describes the organization of the Municipality of Sofia. The second part is dedicated to the campaign. The third part presents the results. The main distinctive features of the 2023 elections are the record-low voter turnout, the high number of candidates for mayors, district mayors, and municipal councillors, and, last but not least, the decision of the Central Election Commission (CEC) to ban the use of voting machines in the first round of voting.

Organization of the municipality of Sofia

In Bulgaria, municipal councillors, the mayor of the municipality, as well as district mayors are directly elected by the population for a 4-year term under conditions and procedures defined by the Electoral Code.

The municipality is the primary administrative-territorial unit where local self-government is exercised. Municipal councils and mayors are elected in municipalities. In districts within the Municipality of Sofia and other municipalities with district divisions, district mayors are also elected.

In Bulgaria, the municipal council is a body of local self-government elected by the population of the municipality. The number of municipal councillors is determined based on the population of each municipality. The municipal council in the Municipality of Sofia consists of 61 councillors.

The executive authority in the municipality is the mayor. The executive authorities in the district and mayoralties are the district mayor and the mayor of the mayoralty, respectively. The mayor of the municipality, as well as the mayors of districts and mayoralties, are directly elected by the population under conditions and procedures specified by the Electoral Code.

The Municipality of Sofia is an administrative-territorial unit that also holds the status of a province. It combines the self-government of its population with the implementation of the national policy for the development of the capital.

Proportional representation is used for the election of municipal councillors. Additionally, when voting for a party or coalition list, voters can express a preferential vote for a candidate within the candidate list for municipal councillors. Mayoral elections, on the other hand, are conducted through a majoritarian electoral system with registered candidate lists in single-member electoral districts in which parties, coalitions, and initiative committees compete.

Any candidate who receives more than half of the valid votes is elected as mayor. If none of the mayoral candidates is elected in the first round, a second round of election is held. In the second round, the candidate who receives the most valid votes is considered elected.

The determination of the results of the vote for municipal councillors is carried out according to a special methodology. The selection of elected candidates from each party or coalition candidate list is based on the number of valid preferences received.

The Campaign

The campaign for the local elections started on September 29, 2023, and continued until October 27, 2023. In cases of a second round in a specific municipality, district, or mayoralty, the pre-election campaign begins immediately after the determination of the candidates and the date for the runoff.

The political parties supporting the formation of the central government – the liberal centrist We Continue the Change (PP, no European affiliation), the liberal center-right alliance Democratic Bulgaria (DB, EPP/Greens-EFA), the center-right GERB-SDS (center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria-Union of Democratic Forces, EPP), and the liberal-centrist Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS, ALDE) competed in the local vote. At the local level, there was no party alliance similar to the ruling “non-coalition. 1

The major parties announced their mayoral nominations immediately before the start of the campaign. Only the PP-DB-SS coalition declared their candidate for mayor at an earlier stage. Political parties officially launched their election campaigns by presenting key aspects of their programs, but overall, the pre-election campaign was characterized by a very low level of activity.

Unlike in previous campaigns, there were no posters, billboards, brochures, or events organized in public spaces. The information campaign focused on social media. This approach limited the awareness of the older segment of the electorate. The election period coincides with two wars, in Ukraine and the Middle East.

According to surveys conducted by various sociological agencies (Alpha Research 2023, Center for Analyses and Marketing 2023, ESTAT 2023), the main battle in the competition for mayor of the capital took place between the candidates of the local “We Continue the Change”–Democratic Bulgaria– Save Sofia coalition (PP-DB-SS), the local BSP for Bulgaria coalition composed of the center-left Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP, S&D), the Left, Neutral Bulgaria, the Citizen Alliance, Ataka, and the local GERB-SDS coalition.

The main competitors for mayor of Sofia areVasil Terziev (PP-DB-SS), Vanya Grigorova (BSP for Bulgaria), and Anton Hekimyan (GERB-SDS). The candidates of all three coalitions can be described as “non-politicians“. Vasil Terziev is a businessman, entrepreneur, and founder of Telerik, a company providing information technology services. Vanya Grigorova is the economic advisor to the president of the Confederation of Labor “Podkrepa.” Over the years, she has shown a preference for left-wing politics. Anton Hekimyan is a former journalist and director of “News, Current Affairs, and Sports” at one of the national television channels, bTV. To run as a mayoral candidate, Hekimyan resigned from its position at the national television.

A general debate among the candidates for mayor of the capital was broadcast on Bulgarian National Television.

In their programs, the mayoral candidates emphasized issues related to the rehabilitation of local infrastructure, the lack of investment in the neighborhoods, the digitization of administrative services, insufficient parking spaces, deficits in economic attractivity, air and environmental pollution, etc. The candidates’ programs were similar and contained identical focal points. The program of the GERB-SDS candidate, in particular, was based on the program of the mayor of the Municipality of Sofia (GERB-SDS) for the 2019-2023 term.

The candidates for municipal councillors are chosen by their respective political parties. The party leadership determines the list of candidates, after which voters can affect the order of candidatesby expressing preferential votes.

The end of the pre-election campaign was marked by a scandal triggered by a report from the State Agency for National Security (DANS) that was discussed in the National Assembly. According to the report, the use of voting machines could increase the risk of electoral fraud. The allegations contained in the report immediately became a convenient pretext for some political parties and parliamentary coalitions to call for a ban on the use of voting machines. As a result, at the end of the pre-election campaign, the Central Election Commission (CEC) made an unprecedented decision to ban voting machines in the local election. The CEC officially justified its decision with the Ministry of E-Government‘s failure to provide a document approving the certification of the machines. The CEC’s initial decision sought to ban machine voting in both the first and second rounds of the election. However, PP-DB-SS filed a complaint challenging the CEC’s decision before the Supreme Administrative Court (VAS). During the first round of voting, only paper ballots were used, and the election of municipal councillors and mayors took place despite over 500,000 invalid paper ballots. Subsequently, the Supreme Administrative Court overturned the CEC’s decision, and in the second round, voting was conducted using either voting machines or paper ballots at the voters’ convenience.

It is interesting to note that a debate between the two candidates for mayor in the second round of the elections did not take place. The invitation extended by the national television was not accepted by Vasil Terziev. Vasil Terziev confirmed his participation in another debate on the Bulgarian national radio, in which Vanya Grigorova however refused to take part.

The results

In the first round of the local election in Sofia, 36.04% or 380,658 residents with voting rights (out of 1,056,354 eligible residents) cast their votes. For comparison, the voter turnout in the 2019 local election in Sofia was 42.82%, when out of 1,064,705 eligible voters, 455,936 people had exercised their right to vote. In 2015, the voter turnout was only 41.25% (CEC, 2015, 2019, 2023).

DateTurnout (Parliamentary election)DateTurnout (Local election)



* Held simultaneously with the elections for the 36th National Assembly
** Held simultaneously with the presidential election
*** Held simultaneously with a national referendum
**** Extraordinary parliamentary election

Figure a · Turnout in local and parliamentary elections in the 1991-2019 period

The total number of parties/coalitions/initiative committees participating in the election of municipal councillors is 29, with a total of 804 candidates for municipal councillors.

 Party, Coalition, Initiative CommitteeVotes%Seats
2019 local election (Municipal councillors)
68Local coalition GERB-SDS131,53632.68%27
56BSP for Bulgaria72,66718.05%15
66Democratic Bulgaria – Unity (YES Bulgaria, DSB, Green Movement)58,44214.52%12
71Boris Borislavov Bonev (ind.)42,75910.62%1
34VMRO – Bulgarian National Movement19,4074.82%4
 Total 2019 –– 61
2023 local election (Municipal councillors)
85Local coalition « We continue the change » – Democratic Bulgaria – Save Sofia112,08734.33%23
76Local coalition GERB-SDS65,07019.93%14
86Local coalition BSP for Bulgaria (BSP for Bulgaria, The Left, Neutral Bulgaria, Citizens’ Alternative, Ataka)45,29113.87%9
42Vazrazhdane (Revival)36,38811.15%8
89Local coalition KOD (DDD-DZ, BDF)15,2104.66%3
21There is such a people14,6754.50%3
4VMRO – Bulgarian National Movement5,7461.76%1
  Total 2023 –– 61
Source: CEC

Figure b · Distribution by parties, coalitions, and initiative committees – elections for the municipal council.

The composition of the municipal council after the elections differs significantly from the composition resulting from the 2019 local election. The PP-DB-SS local coalition won the most seats in the municipal council with 23 mandates, followed by the GERB-SDS with 14 mandates. In 2019, the GERB-SDS has still appointed the largest number of municipal councillors with 27 mandates.

The new municipal council is composed of representatives from 7 parties, coalitions, and initiative committees, whereas in the previous electoral term, only 6 political entities had appointed councillors. There is thus an increase in fragmentation in the municipal council, which may lead to difficulties in decision-making during the coming term.

In the first round of the local elections, 22 candidates ran for mayor. None of the candidates receives support from over half of the voters. The run-off includes the candidates Vasil Terziev from PP-DB-SS (31.8%) and Vanya Grigorova from the BSP for Bulgaria coalition (21.59%). Anton Hikimyan from GERB-SDS took third place with 17.83%. It is worth noting that 14,063 residents or 3.75% of voters did not support any candidate. This can be seen as a form of protest vote or a sign that the candidates failed to gain the trust of citizens.

In the run-off, turnoutwas 365,951 or 34.64% of the electorate in the Municipality of Sofia (1,056,319). Vasil Terziev from PP-DB-SS received 175,044 votes or 48.20%, while Vanya Grigorova from BSP for Bulgaria received 170,258 or 46.89% of the votes. The percentage of residents who did not support any candidate increased to 17,834 or 4.91% of voters.

The elections ended with a narrow victory for Vasil Terziev, who prevailed against second-placed candidate Vanya Grigorova by an extremely small margin (1.31%). Unexpectedly for most pollsters, Vanya Grigorova managed to generate a high level of support despite Terziev’s lead in opinion polls. Among the reasons for this electoral surprise is the unanticpated behavior of GERB-SDS voters, whose candidate Anton Hekimyan, was eliminated in the first round. According to Terziev, despite GERB leader Boiko Borisov’s officially supporting him in the second round, GERB sympathizers did neither vote for him nor for Vanya Grigorova. Moreover, a significant fraction of the right-wing electorate in Sofia rejected Terziev’s candidacy. The coalition that nominated Terziev is involved in a national government that also includes GERB members and is supported by the DPS. Yet, a large part of the right-wing electorate does not accept the so-called non-coalition. Right-wing voters‘ attitude towards Terziev was further influenced by the known ties of some of the candidate‘s family members to the former State Security – the security service of former socialist Bulgaria.

Sofia is a municipality with district divisions in which district mayors are elected alongside the city‘s mayor and municipal councillors. The capital has 24 districts, with a large number of registered candidates for district mayor in each of them. In 2023, the total number of candidates for district mayor was 304.

The average number of candidates for district mayor is 12.6, with the highest number of aspiring candidates being observed in the Student City district (16), Serdika district (15), and Slatina district (15). Only in two district did candidates for district mayor receive over 50% of voter support in the first round : Sredets (53.65%) and Triaditsa (50.61%). The two winning candidates are affiliated with the PP-DB-SS coalition.

Figure c presents information about the elected district mayors and their political parties, providing a comparison with previous periods.

1SredetsReformatorski blokGERB-SDSPP-DB-SS
2Krasno seloReformatorski blokDBPP-DB-SS
4OborishteReformatorski blokDBPP-DB-SS
11Krasna polyanaGERBGERB-SDSPP-DB-SS
17VitoshaReformatorski blokGERB-SDSPP-DB-SS
21Novi IskarGERBGERB-SDSIndependent
Source: CEC

Figure c · Elected district mayors for the 2015-2023 period

From the data presented in the figure, it is evident that while GERB won 19 district mayor positions in 2015, in the 2023 election, only 3 of the elected district mayors were affiliated with GERB, whereas candidates affiliated with PP-DB-SS won a total of 19 district mayorships. The results indicate that in the capital, GERB has been surpassed as the leading party. The PP-DB-SS coalition obtained the most municipal councillors and district mayors in addition to winning the bid for the office of city mayor.

It should be stressed that the BSP did not appoint district mayors in 2015 and 2023, and that in 2019, they had only one district mayor. The Reformist Bloc (parts of which transformed into Democratic Bulgaria) had district mayors in 2015, 2019, and 2023 in the Krasno Selo and Oborishte districts. These districts are located in the central and southern parts of the capital.


In summary, the 2023 municipal election in Sofia is characterized by the following main features: a record-low turnout, a large number of candidates for mayor, district mayors, and municipal councillors, and the lack of an active pre-election campaign.

On the eve of the first round of the election, a major scandal erupted due to a report from the State Agency for National Security (DANS) regarding suspicions about the reliability of voting machines. As a result of these concerns, the Central Election Commission (CEC) banned machine voting for the first round of the election.

No mayoral candidate received over 50% of the votes from the population. The Mayor of Sofia Municipality was elected with 175,044 votes out of a total of 1,056,319 eligible voters (16.48% of the residents eligible to vote in the Sofia Municipality). The difference between the two mayoral candidates is negligibly small, at 1.31%.

The local elections for municipal councillors resulted in an extremely fragmented municipal council, jeopardizing its decision-making capacity. As of January 21, 2024, the municipal council has not yet appointed a chairman, and the council’s work is stalled. The electoral outcome makes it challenging to form a majority in the municipal council.

It should be borne in mind that the local PP-DB coalition also includes Save Sofia. The coalition’s main candidate for chairman of the municipal council was Boris Bonev (Save Sofia), who looks back on a long experience as a municipal councillor and is well-acquainted with the main local issues. However, Bonev’s bid to lead the municipal council was not successful. Bonev opposes a coalition with GERB-SDS in the municipality.

Vanya Grigorova, the mayoral candidate from the BSP for Bulgaria coalition, filed a complaint to invalidate the election results, citing “signals of electoral process violations.”

In connection with the local elections, the Trend sociological agency conducted a survey that revealed a high level of distrust in the electoral process. One-third of the respondents (1,006 people) believe that the ban on voting machines in the first round made the electoral process more unfair (Trend, 2023).


Actualno.com (2023, 28 September). Vsichki kandidati za kmet i obshtinski savetnitsi na mestnite izbori 2023 v Sofia [All candidates for mayor and municipal councilor in the local elections 2023 in Sofia]. Actualno.com. Online.

Alpharesearch (2023). Local elections 2023. Online.

Center for research and analysis (2023). Electoral attitudes in Sofia at the start of the election campaign. Online.

Central Electoral Commission for Local Elections (2019). Results of the 2019 local elections. Online

Central Electoral Commission for Local Elections (2023). Results of the 2023 local elections. Online.

GERB (2023). Rabotim za Sofiya [Let’s work for Sofia]. Electoral Program. Online.

Giltay, E. (2023, 27 October). Sedem osobenosti na tezi mestni izbori [Seven features of these local elections]. 24 chasa. Online.

Hristova, A. (2023, 7 November). Local elections in Graphs. Dnevnik. Online.

Kalcheva, D. & Ushatova, D. (2022). Bulgaria: More open local electoral rules. In Gendźwiłł A., Kjaer, U., & Steyvers K. (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Local Elections and Voting in Europe. Routledge.

Trend (2023). Attitudes of Bulgarians towards the main institutions and parties (November 2023). Online.

Grigorova, V. (2023). Manifesto. Online.

Terziev, V. (2023). Viziyata ni za Sofiya [Vision for Sofia]. Online.

ЕСТАТ (2023). Electoral preferences in Sofia Municipality, Local election 2023. Online.


  1. The term “non-coalition” is used because there is no formal coalition agreement signed between the governing parties at the national level. GERB-SDS and PP-DB justified the formation of this previously unthinkable majority by arguing that, despite their differences, they would work together for the good of the country but would not enter into an official agreement. To some extent, the absence of any official agreement allows the participation of the DPS in the non-coalition.
voir le planfermer
citer l'article +--

citer l'article


Desislava Kalcheva, Municipal election in Sofia, 29 October 2023, Jun 2024,

notes et sources +
voir le planfermer