By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Talks have begun among the leaders of the seven minority political parties that are members of the Reformist Bloc into a “lasting political entity”, according to the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria.
Currently, none of the seven political parties has seats in Parliament. Some are relatively new while others are the inheritors to or splinters from formerly powerful political forces knocked sideways in developments in Bulgarian politics of the past decade.
However, the Reformist Bloc figures in the relatively more reliable opinion polls in Bulgaria of having a strong chance of a significant number of seats in the next Parliament.
A recent Alpha Research poll saw the Reformist Bloc as having about seven per cent support, which would make it the third-largest out of four parties in a new Parliament.
Soon after it was formed in the wake of the May 2013 early parliamentary elections, one poll gave it as much as 20 per cent, but that was out of kilter with more modest estimates. Polling agencies that have tended over the years to produce strong results for the socialists tend, somewhat predictably, to discount the prospects of the Reformist Bloc.
The current constituent parties are the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, the party formerly led by ex-prime minister Ivan Kostov, who stepped down after the 2013 defeat; the Union of Democratic Forces, which bears the name of the once-mighty political formation that ran the country from 1997 to 2001 in a rescue operation after the catastrophic Bulgarian Socialist Party government; the Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, founded around former European Commissioner Meglena Kouneva; the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union; the Blue Unity party, also ultimately an UDF offshoot; the Freedom and Dignity National Party, largely a splinter from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms; and the Green Party.
Of those parties that competed in the May 2013, Meglena Kouneva’s party came the closest to crossing the threshold to win seats in the 42nd National Assembly. Taken together, the parties got about 361 000 votes, or just more than 10 per cent of the vote.
Like other parties and coalitions, the apparently most immediate task – barring new early parliamentary elections – will be the European Parliament elections in which Bulgarians will vote in May 2014. Like other parties, it is likely to put in its strongest effort given that the European vote may have a bearing, to an unusual degree, on the domestic political scene, as an opinion poll more reliable than those produced by the general gamut of Bulgarian agencies.
However, the process of negotiations on possibly reshaping the Reformist Bloc into a tighter formation is unlikely to be easy, even if chances may be improved by most of the older parties that are constituent members having shed their leaders after the May elections.
The Green Party, far from Bulgaria’s most significant force having won less than a per cent of the votes in May, has been seized by internal divisions in recent days over the Reformist Bloc question. Local media quoted party co-chairman Andrei Kovachev (not to be confused with the GERB MEP of the same name) as saying that some within the Green Party believed that some of the parties in the Reformist Bloc were “not sufficiently reformed” to work with them while others thought that “anyway, there is no one else to work with”.
Currently, the Green Party position is that it is prepared to take part in a pre-election alliance but nothing more than that, and wants other parties to free of mafia influence and for there to be agreement on environmental issues of shale gas and nuclear power.
More significantly than grumpy Greens, an important issue for the Reformist Bloc will be its attitude to GERB, the former centre-right ruling party which, according to all recent polls, is to some degree in second place behind the BSP in public support. Strongly-motivated turnout in an election for GERB and the Reformist Bloc could, in the event of a working alliance in Parliament, block the BSP and MRF from power. But all of that lies in only one possible future, and for now, the big challenge for the Reformist Bloc will be how they get along with each other.