By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Since the Bulgarian Socialist Party government came to power in May 2013, opposition leader and former prime minister Boiko Borissov seems to have spent more effort on walking out of Parliament than walking into it.
The latest debacle around the tactics employed by his centre-right GERB party regarding its own motion of no confidence in the current cabinet is an illustration of these tactics.
Borissov, who built a public profile for himself as interior ministry chief secretary from 2002 and created an upward arc in Bulgarian politics that remained uninterrupted until the outcome of the May 2013 parliamentary elections denied him – even though his party got the single largest share of votes – the possibility to return to power.
Borissov has been Sofia mayor and Bulgaria’s prime minister. When it was clear that no other party in Parliament would form a coalition with is, whether he wanted them to or not, there was the immediate question of how he would do in the role of opposition.
In a way, it was a role that he has played before, but in a different context. In the dying months of the previous socialist-led governing coalition, from 2005 to 2009, it was abundantly clear that Borissov was heir-apparent to be Bulgaria’s ruler.
Even were it not for Borissov’s charismatic appeal to many Bulgarians, the elections of 2009 were certain to usher him into power, given the dithering incompetence displayed by the BSP government when faced with the impact of the global economic and financial crisis on Bulgaria.
In the weeks and months of this past summer, under the current BSP administration, Borissov has shown that he is no parliamentarian, in the proper sense of that word. Even when he was prime minister, he was hardly seen in the House, and appeared to regard Parliament largely as a place of employment for his MPs to approve legislation as required.
Borissov and GERB pursued a slightly complex boycott policy. First they said that they would boycott all proceedings of what they deemed to be a discredited legislature. Then they clarified that they would take part if that legislature was discussing electoral reforms.
Then, when controversy erupted over the now-approved BSP plan to commit Bulgaria to a billion leva (about 500 million euro) in new debt, GERB came back, in a quixotic attempt to stop the amendments to the Budget 2013 that they had approved a year earlier, being passed.
When the summer recess ended, it emerged that GERB would name members to parliamentary portfolio committees, which it had at the outset refused to do, and would take up the Deputy Speaker seat to which, by custom and practice, it is entitled.
All of this, of course, is against the fact that since June, the real political action has been about the public protests against the BSP government. The post-election situation has left GERB nowhere – neither in the corridors of power and nor on the streets. When, eventually, it attempted to associate itself publicly with the street protests, it alienated protesters and fed fuel to pro-government conspiracy theorists who long had been alleging (without ever offering proof) that the anti-government protests had been funded and organised by GERB all along.
With the resumption of parliamentary sittings, GERB resorted to that time-honoured parliamentary practice, the motion of no confidence.
First it was to be about the government’s overall policy, but then, for procedural reasons, GERB settled on singling out the non-performance of the Investment Planning Ministry, established in May but which appears to have done nothing of any public good since then.
In turn, matters became more complicated when Borissov opted to combine the no-confidence motion with an illustration of the ruling axis’s dependence on ultra-nationalists Ataka to proceed with governance.
With Ataka’s MPs away from Sofia, apparently to meet in Brussels with ultra-nationalists from elsewhere on the continent to discuss plans for the 2014 European Parliament elections, GERB could deny Parliament the requisite number of MPs for a quorum.
And indeed GERB did so, confounding politicians, media and commentators as they were confronted with the spectacle, unprecedented in Bulgaria, of a party declining to take part in a motion of no confidence that it had tabled. The move led to the cancellation of the day’s sitting on September 25.
The following day, the BSP bosses were lying in wait. When it seemed GERB again would deny Parliament a quorum, socialist Speaker Mihail Mikov ordered a head count, declared that the National Assembly had a quorum, and started through the order paper.
Indignant, most of GERB, led by Borissov, walked out. Challenges on the floor of the House from the few GERB MPs who remained came to nothing. Borissov said that the matter of using a manual count instead of an electronic one would be taken up in the Constitutional Court.
All of this raises the big question – will Borissov’s role as spoiler work for him or not?
Indeed, more than half the country, the polls say, supports the anti-government protest and the demand for the resignation of the BSP administration.
Playing spoiler on the floor of the House, where the ordinary public (and certainly protesters) may never tread, may be a strategy to regain the mantle of hero of the people. Or it could be that, facing numbers in Parliament that mean that he can no more get this government voted out than he could form one of his own, Borissov simply has decided to make the ruling axis’s lives as miserable as possible as he obstructs them every step of the way.
The risk is that none of this may be working for him.
The BSP sought to hit back by portraying Borissov and his party seniors as bereft of arguments against the government.
Further, and to the extent that they can be believed, the opinion polls show Borissov and GERB having shed support in the months since the election, while in turn, the electorate of the second-ranked BSP has become more motivated and mobilised because of the constant assault under which the ruling regime has been.
In turn, this only makes a distinction among the two largest parties that, it seems, many people in Bulgaria simply see as different facets of the same problem. It does not require the most profound analysis to observe the alienation from politicians that Bulgarians have been demonstrating this year.
Out of power and lacking options, shedding street credibility, Borissov’s spoiler tactics may gain him nothing, even when up against a government and ruling parties that are the subject of open hatred among many Bulgarians.
Borissov may indeed end up a loser after all of this, as Bulgarians see only baffling and infantile antics among their politicians in Parliament. But if he is to be a loser, it may well be in a scenario, ultimately, in which there are no winners.
(Photo: Council of the EU)