Rocky path to unity for Bulgaria’s Reformist Bloc

Rocky path to unity for Bulgaria’s Reformist Bloc


By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

The Reformist Bloc, an alliance of a number of right-wing and centrist parties currently lacking parliamentary seats, appears to be on track to form a political union by its set deadline of the end of 2013 – but will shed one of its member parties along the way.

Formed after the May 2013 national parliamentary elections, the Reformist Bloc already has shed one of its initial member parties, the Green Party, reportedly because that party envisages working with its European namesakes in the 2014 European Parliament elections.

That has left the bloc with fairly well-known parties formerly represented in Parliament, the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB) and the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), along with former European commissioner Meglena Kouneva’s Bulgaria for Citizens, Bulgarian Agrarian National Union, and the National Party Freedom and Honour.

Blue Unity, a small party recently founded around former UDF leader Nadezhda Neynski, seems on its way out after DSB leader Radan Kanev announced that he had requested the suspension of negotiations with Neynski’s party.

Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television on December 16, Kanev said that he had requested this suspension of negotiations with Blue Unity because of differences of positions and also because of media appearances by Neynski, which he described as a revival of the bad practice of speaking publicly while negotiations were ongoing.

Many of those involved in the Reformist Bloc trace their political traditions to the heyday of the UDF, when it was in government at the end of the 1990s, borne there on a popular wave of revolt against the economic and financial disaster into which the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) led the country.

But the traditional anti-communist right wing has been in near-uninterrupted decline since then, defeated successively by newer parties formed around individuals – first that of former monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg, later that of Boiko Borissov – but, moreover, by bitter infighting that led to the once-mighty UDF splintering into myriad parties.

Now, against the background of the current BSP government being embattled by continuing majority public support for demands for its resignation and fresh elections, the Reformist Bloc has emerged to offer six steps for Bulgaria to emerge from the crisis. These include, beyond new elections, the formation of a government to carry out urgent repair work and then to open the way for a Grand National Assembly to rewrite the workings of Bulgaria’s political system.

The more believable of Bulgaria’s polling agencies give the Reformist Bloc a good chance of some seats in the next legislature, but far from a majority, in turn raising the issue of whether it would form a coalition with former ruling party GERB to save the country from a repeat of a BSP-Movement for Rights and Freedoms government.

Kanev has been publicly unenthusiastic about working with GERB, citing the party’s leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who has been the target of a number of allegations, all denied, and is seen in some circles as having a role so powerful as to be causing disillusionment and dissension in Borissov’s party.

In recent days, two members of Parliament have quit the GERB parliamentary group, with at least one citing the overwhelming influence of some of the leadership as a deciding factor.

Kanev said that Tsvetanov was an obstacle not only for GERB but also to talks with other parties. The DSB leader also was sceptical about overtures by Borissov.

“The bottom line is that we (the Reformist Bloc and GERB) have different paths in politics,” Kanev told BNT.

He said that he had been involved in negotiations in the right-wing political spectrum since 2007.

When five parties were of one opinion, but one party was not, it was simply a matter of not signing a deal with that party, he said.

People wanted to see unity among the right-wing, Kanev said. “We have to show that we are not turning back. I want to give a very clear signal that the past is the past. We are going forward.”

Voters had no interest in seeing internal conflicts: “it permanently repels them and destroys their trust”.

Kanev’s proposal to cut off talks with Blue Unity is to be considered on the evening of December 16 by 12 party officials and 20 “civic council” members of the bloc.

Differences with Blue Unity that have emerged publicly include Neynski’s party not wanting quota representation in the future coalition but instead wanting a common party.

Neynski has said publicly that there were two tendencies in the Reformist Bloc, one right-wing and the other liberal, and it was important which of these would prevail.

Reportedly, there also has been controversy within the bloc about the idea that Kouneva would be the electoral list leader when Bulgaria votes in the European Parliament elections in May 2014. Officially, no decision has been made on this issue.

Speaking on December 15 to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio, Kanev said that it was “truly absurd” to seek to make a distinction between right-wing and liberal parties in the bloc.

The DSB and Blue Unity have a history dating back before the May 2013 parliamentary elections, when talks on a pre-election coalition deal came to naught, leaving the DSB in a last-minute scramble to find another partner. When the election results were announced, the DSB, which formerly had MPs, was left without seats in the new legislature.