By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Continuing turnouts of thousands for street protests, continuing rumbles from within the parties supporting the government, and the first instance of clashes on the streets – these and other profound challenges are calling into question the future of the three-week-old Bulgarian Socialist Party government.
That government, the object of widespread public anger and ridicule, is seeking to regain credibility.
BSP leader Sergei Stanishev has sought to highlight the government’s purported plan for a package of social assistance and an intervention in the decision-making process on energy prices, the latter the issue around which the early 2013 protests were mobilised, that led to the political crisis and the early elections that resulted in the BSP government.
Stanishev, speaking on June 18, highlighted the move to raise allowances for parents of children younger than two, claiming that the BSP government had done more in 20 days than Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB government had done in four years.
While the streets of major cities and towns again saw thousands of people march to demand that the government step down, Borissov – whose party won the largest single share of seats in the May elections but had no allies in Parliament with which to form a government – remained fairly on the offensive, amid speculation that the pressure on the BSP government would prove inexorable.
Borissov also said that he would take court action for slander against Stanishev after the socialist leader said that Borissov had a “criminal background”.
In the latest statement on GERB’s policy on its boycott of parliamentary activities, Borissov said on June 18 that his party would take part in parliamentary debates only if they were about changing electoral law.
After the BSP government, which is supported by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, committed the massive political blunder of arranging to have controversial MRF MP Delyan Peevski elected as head of the State Agency for National Security – a move that protests forced it to withdraw – Borissov said that his party was campaigning for fresh elections, a Grand National Assembly, but only under reformed electoral law.
From the MRF, which has decisive power over the existence and actions of the government, there was an ominous hint that the party may not be willing to hold that government in place for the full four years. Speaking on television on June 18, MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan said that if the government was “not serving the people” it should not remain there. But it remains to be seen whether this was merely a throwaway line amid the dramatic days of Bulgaria’s current political theatre.
Ultra-nationalists Ataka are also at the forefront of the drama, after bottle-throwing incidents outside the party’s Sofia headquarters on the night of June 17 left a number of people slightly injured Ataka leader Volen Siderov blamed Borissov and GERB for instigating the assault. However, there previously had been warnings circulated online that the streets outside Ataka’s headquarters would be used by agents provocateur to incite incidents that would discredit the protests.
For now, the BSP government says it will not step down. Stanishev, whose leadership is facing internal challenges, called a national council for June 20 in an apparent attempt to forestall moves against him, including a petition for a national council to overthrow his leadership.
The future is not clear, but all that is, is that a government is holding on to power amid the crises of credibility, lack of clarity and relentless series of controversies that characterised the first part of 2013 and the elections campaigns themselves – and there is no end in sight, except perhaps, and only perhaps, for the current government.