Bulgaria’s right-wing parties pursue will o’ the wisp of unity

Bulgaria’s right-wing parties pursue will o’ the wisp of unity


By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Bulgaria’s traditional right-wing parties have had a hard time of it for the past decade, but see in the current political crisis a need and opportunity to resume their pursuit of the unity that has eluded them for so long.

From 1997 to 2001, the Union of Democratic Forces was in power, a right-wing party that was forged in the crucible of post-communism from coalition of a range of non-communist forces.

But it was routed by the party of former monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg, which was in power until 2005, and right-wing fortunes worsened through the years of the socialist-led coalition from 2005 to 2009, and in turn the Boiko Borissov phenomenon took over the centre-right space in that latter year.

The problem of the traditional right-wing parties has been a compound one.

In 2001, the then-government headed by Ivan Kostov implemented swingeing reforms to stabilise the country’s economy and rescue it from the meltdown caused by the socialist government that had preceded it. But these reforms had hardships of their own and were made more painful by the fact that many saw processes such as rapid large-scale privatisations accompanied by corruption and cronyism.

On top of this, voters were treated to the unedifying spectacle of a succession of battles for the leadership of the UDF, the 2004 split away of Kostov to form his own party, and alliances and rivalries based more on interpersonal clashes than any other consideration.

For a time, from 2009, the UDF and Kostov’s party, the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, had a working alliance in Parliament under the name of the Blue Coalition. But, in turn, dissatisfaction in some UDF circles about working with the party of Kostov, seen as having done much to fracture the UDF, brought down that party’s leadership.

The end result of the infighting was that the May 2013 parliamentary elections saw neither the UDF nor the DSB win any seats in Parliament.

However, those who crunch the numbers, among politicians and observers, see in a renewed unity the prospect of a return to Parliament.

It remains unclear whether the huge national protests against the bumbling and increasingly discredited BSP government will result in early elections. The parties involved in this government – the BSP, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, ultra-nationalists Ataka – currently could only lose from fresh elections.

For now, the least of the dreams among the right-wing is a renewed unity between the UDF and the new leadership of the DSB, after Kostovo stepped down and his deputy Radan Kanev was elected to replace him on June 23, in combination with former European Commissioner Meglena Kouneva’s Bulgaria for Citizens. That, of course, is merely a scenario – it will never be known whether, had Kouneva won seats in May 2013, she may have worked with the BSP and MRF.

The wider idea is that, after fresh elections, the minority right-wing parties would unite to get over the threshold for seats, and then work with Borissov’s GERB to keep the BSP, MRF and Ataka out of power.

The DSB’s new leader, Radan Kanev, said on June 23 that the idea being put forward by the BSP that its ouster would mean the return of Borissov’s GERB was being used as a “bogeyman” by the socialists.

Kanev said that GERB had peaked in May, and the protests against the political establishment had made it clear that many Bulgarians did not see it as an alternative to the current government.

In turn, according to Kanev, the socialists would pay dearly for their political obstinacy, while the MRF – the “Turkish party” – would pay dearly for their collusion with each other.

For Kanev, the best option for right-wing unity would be a new formation built from the ground up, rather than a combination of existing parties.

This should have its own leadership, with many non-party people in it, he said.