Bulgaria has a long history of invasions both from the east and west. The first real time there was any sense of a national identity was in the early 19th Century and in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin an autonomous Principality of Bulgaria was born. The first Bulgarian general election was held the following year in January 1879 with the Liberal Party winning the election.
Full independence didn’t come until 1908 and was followed by a series of wars, known as the Balkan Wars which were lost by Bulgaria who sued for peace in 1913.
1919 saw the introduction of the Bulgarian Agrarian Union which redistributed the land in the favour of peasants. This was followed by coups in 1923 and 1934, the latter of which introduced an authoritarian military regime which sided with Germany in the Second World War.
In 1944 German occupied Bulgaria was invaded by the Russians and in 1946 the monarchy was abolished and communism introduced. The country was then ruled by Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) until 1990. The BCP reformed and renamed itself into the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and promptly won the 1990 general election.
Turmoil within the new government led to a second election in 1991 which was won by the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF or SDS) a coalition of around ten smaller pro-democracy groupings. The 1991 constitution guarantees freedom of political activity with the exception of parties that seek separatist aims or who promote ethnic or religious divisions.
By 1994 further problems led to another election which the BSP won comfortably, taking 125 of the 240 seats in the National Assembly.
The government changed hands again in 1997, with the SDS led United Democratic Forces (ODS) forming the government with 137 of the 240 seats. This was the first government to complete its four year mandate and the next elections didn’t happen until 2001.
In the 2001 elections a new party, the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), headed by the former Bulgarian monarch won 120 seats. Not having quite enough for an overall majority the NDSV formed a coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS or MRF).
That coalition stumbled its way to the 2005 general election which they lost, instead the BSP led Coalition for Bulgaria (a new coalition) won with 82 seats. Again it was not enough to form a majority and in the end they joined with the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS or MRF) in a new coalition government.
In 2009 another new party came forward, the centre-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and took 116 seats. Eventually they decided to run a minority government which was confirmed in a parliamentary vote on 27th July by 162 to 77 votes.
Almost immediately the government was hit by the financial crisis which swept across Europe and the rest of the world and protests against austerity measures, high electricity prices and increasing poverty grew in strength. Eventually the government was forced to resign in February 2013, several months before the scheduled election.
GERB dropped 20 seats to 97 seats in the May 2013 election but still emerged as the largest party in a four party parliament. Unable to form a coalition government they were forced to hand over the formation of a government to the centre-left Bulgarian Socialist party (BSP) led Coalition for Bulgaria which had obtained 84 seats, up 44 seats on their 2009 result. Together with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF or DPS) the BSP was able to put together a minority coalition with 120 of the 240 seats in the National Assembly.
The next year was typified by a string of street protests and within parliament a stream of no-confidence votes. After poor European Election results for the BSP in May 2014 they agreed to hold fresh elections which were called for 5th October.
The President and Vice President are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for a five-year term. They may serve a second term.
The unicameral National Assembly has 240 members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Bulgaria at joint 75th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 41 (where 100 is least corrupt).