By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
If Bulgaria is going to be able to come up with a sustainable cabinet after its May 12 parliamentary elections, much may depend on either of the two largest political parties out of the four elected making a deal with the smallest, Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalists Ataka.
But Siderov has said that he would not enter into a coalition deal with anyone. On top of that, even if he backtracks on this, his political price for co-operation may be too high for either of the two major parties, which currently appear deadlocked.
With 100 per cent of ballots from Bulgaria counted, but many still to come from voting abroad, Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party appeared to have 97 seats in the 240-seat National Assembly, Sergei Stanishev’s Bulgarian Socialist Party-led Coalition for Bulgaria 87 seats, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) 33 seats and Ataka 23 seats.
This means that Borissov’s party has too few for a minority government, given the improbability of other parties supporting a return to power by GERB.
Customary allies, the socialists and the MRF – the latter the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity – together would have 120, the same number as GERB and Ataka combined. As noted, however, these figures could change, especially if Bulgarian passport-holders of Turkish ethnicity have voted as a bloc.
Siderov, whose party would be entering its third term in Bulgaria’s Parliament after winning seats in 2005 and 2009, has made it clear that any form of co-operation with GERB would depend on Borissov’s party endorsing Siderov’s “plan against colonial slavery”.
This is a booklet of measures that the ultra-nationalists want, including driving out foreign ownership of monopolies and reshaping the domestic market to give the advantage to Bulgarian products and produce. Not only would this be politically unsustainable but also it would be economically unsustainable. On top of that, it is highly doubtful that Siderov’s plan would be compatible with EU rules. And, on top of that, there is an emotional history between GERB and Ataka – for the first half or so of GERB’s term from 2009, Ataka informally supported Borissov, but they became estranged, especially after Siderov’s supporters became involved in a street fight with Muslims outside Sofia’s main mosque in 2010.
As if all of this was not complicated enough, the socialists and the MRF envisage what they call a “programme government” made up of “experts”. The socialists want Plamen Oresharski, who was finance minister in the 2005/09 tripartite coalition government, to be prime minister and have spoken of drawing into government members of parties that did not make it into Parliament – including, apparently, members of right-wing parties.
A socialist-led coalition would face the immediate task of job creation, and in its election platform made the breathtaking promise of creating 250 000 jobs in a four years, of which 100 000 would be in the first year. Scrutiny of its programme, however, fails to make clear just how it would achieve this. Further, the socialists want to scrap the attractive 10 per cent flat rate of income tax on individuals in favour of a progressive tax, a step with the MRF does not agree.
In a television interview a few weeks before the elections, the chairperson of Bulgaria’s association of commercial banks, Levon Hampartzoumian, said that the trouble with Bulgaria’s major political parties was that they have few or no senior leaders who understand economics.
The next important stage is expected on May 16, by which time, according to the Central Election Commission, final results will be announced and seats allocated in the National Assembly. Within seven days of the close of voting, the lists of MPs deemed to have been elected will be announced.
Already, various forms of fallout from the May 12 elections have happened and others are expected.
On May 13, the day after the election, the leaders of three parties, from centrist to right-wing, resigned given their respective dismal performances in the elections. Organisers of some of the protest groups who took to the streets towards the close of winter in early 2013 have said that they will go back there, saying that nothing has been resolved about cost-of-living difficulties in Bulgaria. Some political commentators in Bulgaria have said that even if the socialists and the MRF form a government, they will be up against the fact that with a turnout of only 50 per cent and GERB having still taken the largest share of votes, the next government would effectively lack wide popular support.
Two scenarios have become the topic of political conversation in Bulgaria.
The first is that the procedure required by the constitution for forming a government will fail, and around September, Bulgarians will be invited back to the ballot booths as the country tries again to come up with a functioning Parliament and government. Until then, the caretaker cabinet under diplomat Marin Raykov, who took office as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on March 13 after the abrupt resignation of the Borissov government in the face of the protests, would remain in office.
The other possible scenario is that some combination will be forged to govern, but will teeter on a knife-edge in the 42nd National Assembly and be unlikely to serve out a full term.
Against a background of the protests and political instability having made foreign investors – so crucial to Bulgaria’s economy – jittery, and resulted in a downturn in domestic economic performance, this is worrying stuff, more so because the country’s immediate fate appears to lie partly in the hands of a man whose economic and political outlook is unpalatable to many.
(Photo, of Ataka leader Siderov at a party rally on Bulgaria’s March 3 national day in 2013: © Clive Leviev-Sawyer)