Bulgaria’s ‘Reformist Bloc’ pursues the chimera of right-wing unity

Bulgaria’s ‘Reformist Bloc’ pursues the chimera of right-wing unity


By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Against the background of many weeks of protests against a Bulgarian Socialist Party government that its thousands of critics see as discredited, and speculation that early parliamentary elections could prove inevitable, a group of minority parties currently without seats in Parliament continue to seek to position themselves for a united bid in the next elections.

The Reformist Bloc, launched soon after the May 2013 national parliamentary elections, gained a minor but arguably significant boost on August 15 when the centre-right Union of Democratic Forces and the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union joined its ranks.

This added to an existing slightly motley crew, made up of the right-wing Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, Blue Unity, the People’s Party Freedom and Dignity and the Green Party.

Of this latter list, only the first has in common recent membership of Parliament. The DSB was founded originally by former prime minister and former UDF leader Ivan Kostov, who stepped down after the DSB won no seats in May 2013.

The Reformist Bloc is the largest incarnation in a quest of more than a decade to form a wide coalition of parties opposed to the lineal successors of the Bulgarian Communist Party, today’s Bulgarian Socialist Party, holding power – as it does now, the result of Boiko Borissov’s centre-right party GERB having won the largest share of seats but lacking any allies in Parliament with which to form a governing coalition.

From 1997 to 2001, the UDF of old was the predominant political force in Bulgaria, swept to power after the previous occasion that the Bulgarian Socialist Party brought the country to its knees financially and economically.

But strategic blunders saw the UDF defeated in 2001 at the hands of former monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg, and subsequent political events saw the notion of a unified centre-right force remain ever elusive.

The closest that the notion came to reality – and that was at some distance – was with the 2009 formation of the Blue Coalition, of Kostov’s DSB and the UDF, then something of a rump party that at the time was under the leadership of skilled economist Martin Dimitrov.

But infighting over the very existence of the Blue Coalition, which detractors within the UDF saw only as the political seduction and neutering of Dimitrov, brought down him, the coalition, and the chances of a return to Parliament.

As noted, the DSB is now under new leadership and so is the UDF. The other components of the Reformist Bloc include some entities that also have a complex political history. The Bulgaria for Citizens Movement is led by Meglena Kouneva, formerly associated with Saxe-Coburg’s party before its political eclipse, and also formerly Bulgaria’s first European Commissioner after the country joined the bloc in January 2007. Kouneva also has her detractors, who whisper against her political credentials by suggesting that she has covert ties to socialist circles because of family links, a suggestion that her backers reject, pointing to the position that she took ahead of the 2013 election race.

The protest movements of 2013 proved to have no benefit for Kouneva, although she had launched her movement on the basis of being against Bulgaria’s political establishment.

In turn, the People’s Party Freedom and Dignity is in effect a splinter from the MRF, the latter the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent. The MRF, however laughable its detractors find this claim, describes itself as a liberal party.

The Reformist Bloc, apparently seeking to position itself as a stand-alone brand in spite of some disparate aspects of its constituent elements, has been moving in parallel with anti-government sentiments, endorsing the protests and taking the same stands of rejecting the unpopular moves and outright blunders and gaffes by the Bulgarian Socialist Party government and its so-called cabinet of “experts”.

A huge issue for the Reformist Bloc is its relationship with Borissov’s GERB, the party that was in power in Bulgaria from 2009 to 2013. GERB, as noted, won the largest share of seats in May 2013 but faced only the BSP, MRF and ultra-nationalists Ataka in Parliament, which formed their own ruling axis and barred Borissov from returning to power.

GERB has been at the receiving end of a concerted campaign to discredit it and to paint its individual senior figures as, in effect, a coterie of criminals (allegations that in all respects are denied). These political games aside, it currently is unclear amid the politically-charged atmosphere how GERB would do were elections to be held now.

In late June, when DSB leader Radan Kanev spoke about the founding of a reformist bloc, he did not exclude GERB. At the same time, Kanev, in listing the parties that would be approached to work together in the reformist bloc, did not list the UDF, which at the time he said was in effect in co-operation with GERB.

However, a stated overture to the Reformist Bloc by Borissov on August 8 led only to rejection.

Kadev said that the proposal by Borissov “made me feel sorry for him, as obviously he is not on the same level as his own voters at the moment”.

Opinion polls are awaited to indicate the possible electoral chances of the Reformist Bloc. Allowing for the fact that opinion polls in Bulgaria can in several cases prove to be slanted one way or another, only one poll so far specifically has mentioned the Reformist Bloc, projecting it to be set for about 20 per cent of seats were elections to be held now.

If that figure is true, it would be an indication that the Reformist Bloc could be succeeding in representing to long-frustrated centre-right and right-wing voters the prospect of an effective coalition against red forces. But in the absence of a range of further polls, it is premature to rush to conclusions.

For now, as per its agreement of August 15, the Reformist Bloc states itself to be united in supporting the protests of Bulgarian citizens calling for the immediate resignation of the current BSP government.

It also blames GERB for failing in government, for weakening state institutions and dividing and sapping the centre-right and democratic “political space”.

The bloc admits that in the past, there were campaign mistakes and “unnecessary confrontation” among centre-right political parties.

It sees a marked trend in the merger of the state and organised crime and holds that the parties in the current Parliament, Bulgaria’s 42nd National Assembly, are unable to implement a policy of enforcing the rule of law and new rules that would clean up the administration, regulators, public contracts and rid the country of monopolies.

The Reformist Bloc “expresses dismay” at the capture of Bulgaria’s state institutions by the oligarchy and the failures of the current government, which bring into question Bulgaria’s previous achievements in the field of parliamentary democracy, human rights and a market economy.

The bloc, it says, “recognises the need for a new generation of political change, not just changing the majority in Parliament and the government”.

Developments in Parliament and on the streets outside it will determine whether and when the Reformist Bloc will have its chance to carry out its stated aims.