The firing of Interior Ministry chief secretary Georgi Kostov is the latest episode to have irked GERB leader Boiko Borissov’s party, which repeatedly has alleged that Ognyan Gerdzhikov’s caretaker government is taking sides in Bulgaria’s March 26 early parliamentary elections.
Since it took office at the end of January, appointed by Roumen Radev – who won Bulgaria’s 2016 presidential elections on a ticket backed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party – the caretaker cabinet has carried out a review of the ministries of the former Borissov government and fired a large number of regional governors that had been appointed when Borissov was in power.
The day after Kostov was fired, allegedly for being involved in exerting political pressure in 2015 and 2016 on senior Interior Ministry staff, Borissov – who appointed Kostov in March 2015 – questioned who it was who was really behind the axing of Kostov.
Speaking on February 23, Borissov said that he was interested in who proposed changing the Interior Ministry chief secretary, “as I see it, the state has no pilot”.
Borissov said that Kostov was a professional figure. “It’s mixing everyone up for the latest time, who changed, why they changed him, what are the motives”.
Liliyana Pavlova, twice a minister in two Borissov governments and an election candidate, said that in these elections, a discrediting war was being led against GERB.
“Unfortunately, the caretaker cabinet is behaving as a crutch for our opponents and is offering them convenient talking points,” Pavlova said.
Pavlova, who was regional development minister, said in recent days that “on the other hand, precisely as a result of the so-called audit undertaken by the caretaker cabinet, it became that under the Borissov II cabinet, there were no serious abuses of procurements, of funds and so on”.
She said that purges at regional government level were a usurpation of power in which the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the National Movement for Stability and Progress (of which Gerdzhikov was a prominent member when Simeon Saxe-Coburg was in power, serving as Speaker of Parliament) were trying to get into government through the back door.
On another occasion, Pavlova said that the caretaker government was giving talking points to GERB’s opponents to attack what she described as “the most successful activities of the Borissov government”, infrastructure and revamping of panel apartment blocks.
Pavlova said that the interim government was trying to make false suggestions and plays on people’s fears. These allegations and suggestions resembled the line taken in attacks by the BSP and Ataka in making what she said were false allegations about people having to pay towards the apartment blocks restoration projects.
Krassen Kralev, who was minister of sport in the second Borissov government, said that the review of the ministries by the Gerdzhikov administration proved that it was meant to conveniently serve the Bulgarian Socialist party.
The attempt had been to instill in the public a sense that the Borissov government had systematic errors in its governance, but this had proved to be untrue, Kralev said. “The report proved that GERB ruled fairly, openly and honestly,” he said.
Nikolai Nenchev, who was defence minister in the second Borissov cabinet but who is not a GERB member but leads a constituent party of the Reformist Bloc, saw the check-up of the defence ministry as a pre-election move aimed at compromising him as a political leader.
A report by Bulgarian National Radio said that some observers pointed out that more alarming than the release of previous governors was their replacing with people close to the BSP.
“On the eve of the election campaign, the caretaker Government is subject to criticism that instead of preparing the elections, it was dealing with personnel changes, revenge and confrontation,” the BNR report said.
Gerdzhikov, responding on February 22 to Borissov’s allegations that Kostov had been got rid of to clear the way for the BSP to “buy” the elections, dismissed the claim as worthy of a Nobel Prize for fiction.
BSP leader Kornelia Ninova, speaking on February 23, said that her party had no connection to the processes that take place in the Interior Ministry.
Polls, reliable or not, are showing a tight race in the March 26 parliamentary elections between Borissov’s GERB and Ninova’s BSP. With the official campaign period due to open on February 24, the battle is likely to get even bitterer and brutally-fought.