Ousted MRF leader Mestan: I remain in politics

Ousted MRF leader Mestan: I remain in politics

Sofia, January 7, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Lyutvi Mestan, ousted as leader and as a member of the Bulgarian Parliament’s third-largest party the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, said on January 7 that he was staying in politics.

Mestan was expelled from the MRF after founder and honorary president Ahmed Dogan publicly criticised him for what Dogan called Mestan’s “gaffe” in his parliamentary declaration on Turkey’s downing of a Russian military bomber. “Sometime around Christmas I stepped on a Russian mine and you know what happened,” Mestan told the January 7 news conference.

Bulgaria’s National Assembly is scheduled to resume sittings on January 13, at which point it is expected to become clear precisely how many MPs will leave the parliamentary group in solidarity with Mestan.

Reports have said five MRF MPs will quit, which along with Mestan’s expulsion would reduce the parliamentary group from 36 to 30 – which would mean it would remain the third-largest group. The fourth-largest, the Reformist Bloc – which has internal troubles of its own – has 23 MPs.

Mestan, who when in the MRF leadership long insisted that the party was key to Bulgaria’s Euro-Atlantic orientation (the party, led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity, proclaims itself as liberal), said that Bulgaria needed a Euro-Atlantic direction.

“I am staying in politics. I can be expelled from the party, but not its ideas,” said Mestan, adding that he did not accept the way in which he was expelled and the reasons for his “political execution”.

Mestan, who was Dogan’s protege and who was handed the leadership post to become the second MRF leader when Dogan stepped down in January 2013, said that he had tried to save the MRF from an image as an oligarchi pro-Russian party, but some of his decisions had been identified as “sins”.

According to Mestan, his first sin had been the decision in 2014 to end the term of office of the “Oresharski” cabinet. After the May 2013 early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, a ruling axis of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and MRF came to power after Boiko Borissov’s GERB won the most votes but insufficient to govern alone and Borissov had no partners in Parliament with which to form a coalition.

The BSP-MRF government was widely rejected and was the subject of enduring widely-supported public protests. After the BSP was thrashed in May 2014 European Parliament elections, eventually Mestan said that the cabinet should step down for fresh early elections. Those elections resulted in the second Borissov government.

Mestan said that his position on South Stream also had been a “sin”, as had his attempt to restore the dialogue with the right-wing, evidenced by his well-publicised March 2014 coffee-drinking session with Borissov.

Another “sin” was his desire to restore dialogue with Ankara, Mestan said. This was a reference to complex relations between Turkey’s government and Dogan’s party. Mestan, who listed defamatory reference to him in the media in recent days, said that these attempts had resulted in him being termed an “Islamist”.

Mestan said that these sins had been identified as mortal, but he continued to hope that they were not.

He went on to say the other sins were his intention to take court action at European level to get Bulgaria to allow election campaigning in languages other than Bulgarian – Mestan is among those who have been penalised for canvassing in Turkish – and finally, his declaration on the downing of the Russian military aircraft, which had been seen by Dogan as Mestan’s main mistake.

“I played the role of a naive, romantic sapper who attempts demining. Sometime around Christmas I stepped on a Russian mine and you know what happened,” Mestan said.

He continued to insist that his declaration had not been a gaffe. It had been written in one of the MRF rooms in the National Assembly building. “There were other MPs, including members of the triumvirate,” Mestan said, referring to the three-member group that has been handed temporary stewardship of the leadership pending a party congress in March.

“It is interesting to see how the MRF MPs enthusiastically applauded,” Mestan said of the day of the declaration, which included – among other things – a statement that the Turkish shooting down of the Russian aircraft had followed repeated Russian violations of Turkish airspace.

He said that he had recognised the simple truth that the path to power for the MRF passed through the right-wing. This would mean a qualitative growth of the party and its liberation from the “mythology” of being pigeonholed as an oligarchic pro-Russian party, Mestan said. The link among all his “sins” was his desire for the MRF to return to power “through the front door”, he said.

The same day as Mestan’s news conference, the Youth Wing of the MRF released a declaration calling on him and the five other MRF MPs who have decided to stand with Mestan to resign from the seats in Parliament to which they were elected on the MRF ticket.