By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
In the May 2013 national parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent – ranked third out of four that made it into Parliament, with a voter turnout for it that was lower than in previous elections.
Yet the MRF is once again emerging as what some see as the most influential player in Bulgarian politics, perhaps more so than ever before.
The MRF has its roots in a project that arose after Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity and the Muslim faith were subjected to brutal persecution in the closing decades of the communist government.
Yet, ironically or not, its former and current leaders – Ahmed Dogan and Lyutvi Mestan – both are former agents of communist-era secret service State Security.
In the early years of the transition from communism, while participating in a round table process with anti-communist forces and the inheritors of the former Bulgarian Communist Party, it became clear that the MRF was more inclined with what ended up renamed as the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
In more recent history, the MRF was part of the BSP-led tripartite coalition government that was in power in Bulgaria from 2005 to 2009. The three parties were the BSP, MRF and the party led by former king and former prime minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg, with cabinet seats handed out according to a mathematical formula.
Its critics see the MRF as having undue influence in the economic life of Bulgaria, and even Dogan at one point was quoted as speaking about his party’s “business circles”. Among the several controversies in which Dogan was involved was his receiving of an enormous fee to act as a consultant on a hydro-power project, even though his degree is in philosophy. An investigation cleared him of conflict of interest.
Dogan also has been quoted as saying that it did not matter whether the MRF was in or out of power, its influence remained the same.
It also has tended to always turn in roughly the same electoral performance, customarily ranking third, and customarily working in effective alliance with the BSP. This was its role as an opposition party to the centre-right GERB government from 2009 to mid-2013.
The results of the May 2013 election left GERB with the largest single share of votes, but faced with all other parties being hostile to a coalition with the party of Boiko Borissov, GERB stepped aside – and a BSP government came to power.
This time around, there is no mathematical formula for apportioning Cabinet seats or other senior official appointments.
But a number of Cabinet appointments and the first round of deputy ministers and regional governors to be announced show actual or implied MRF links.
Bargaining between the BSP and the MRF on such appointments has been reported to be hard. It has taken two weeks since the Cabinet took office to get even an incomplete list of deputy ministers – and these include some deputy ministers recycled from the tripartite coalition, including MRF ones.
The political logic is clear – the MRF has to be kept content, because it has it in its power to sink the government at any time. At the same time, there is the spectacle of the MRF and its supposed arch-enemy, Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalists Ataka, having acted to uphold the current government. At the same time in turn, MRF and Ataka both vehemently deny having any deals with each other or as part of a wider deal with the BSP.
June 14 brought the most spectacular display of MRF power so far.
The Friday morning session of Bulgaria’s Parliament saw the appointment by Parliament, with the votes of the BSP and MRF, of controversial MRF MP Delyan Peevski to become the new head of the State Agency for National Security.
With his mother Irina Krasteva, Peevski is involved in the ownership of a number of Bulgarian-language broadcast and print media, including TV7.
He formerly was a deputy minister in the Bulgarian Socialist Party tripartite coalition government that was in power from 2005 and 2009, but was dismissed in 2007 after it was alleged that he had exercised undue influence regarding appointments at tobacco major Bulgartabac. Fired in May that year, he was reinstated a few months later by then-prime minister Sergei Stanishev.
Peevski has been seen as instrumental in negotiations on the share of posts and power given to the MRF for its support for the current administration which Oresharski was appointed to head.
Peevski’s parliamentary biography lists him as a “criminal investigator”. Formerly having been employed in the Sofia judicial investigator’s office, he was reinstated by the Supreme Judicial Council as a judicial investigator in mid-March 2013, the time that the Boiko Borissov government left office after its resignation.
Already, there had been controversy about his earlier employment at the judicial investigator’s office because he had not, at the time, satisfied the requirements for appointment.
The 32-year-old, born in Sofia but elected on the list from Pazardzhik, was a leader of the youth wing of the National Movement Simeon II but became an MP for the MRF.
Peevski will head a State Agency for National Security being remodeled by the Bulgarian Socialist Party to the form it had during the previous tripartite coalition government.
An act amending the law on the agency was among the first moves made by the BSP after the May 2013 elections. Among the changes was to provide for the head of SANS to be appointed by Parliament after a recommendation by the Prime Minister.
Speaking after his June 14 nomination, Peevski said, “the State Agency for National Security (SANS) will start working now. We will not only talk, the way used to be in the past.
“There will not be any squaring of accounts. I will work for the state and its citizens. You will judge my work by my actions,” Peevski said.
Tsvetan Tsvetanov, former interior minister in the GERB government, described the appointment of Peevski to head SANS as “an absolute and complete farce”.
Peevski did not meet the criteria for the post, according to Tsvetanov.
The move would destroy any possibility for Bulgaria to work with the European-Atlantic services in the way it could have and it would be impossible to guarantee the security of the country, Tsvetanov said.
GERB leader Boiko Borissov told journalists that the Peevski appointment was the official signal that the Bulgarian Socialist Party had died.
“I am so shocked by what I have just heard that I cannot even believe it is happening,” Borissov said.
It was all over for the BSP, he said. “As of today, there is only one party ruling in Bulgaria and it is the MRF. The BSP no longer exists,” Borissov said.
(Photo: MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan)