Tensions over changing of the guard in Bulgaria

Tensions over changing of the guard in Bulgaria


By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

The sweeping process in which the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms are purging and changing power structures in the country is a source of tension not only with the former ruling party but also within and between those two parties.

After the May 12 national parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, previous ruling party GERB won the largest single share of votes but had no allies in Parliament to enable a return to power, opening the way for the second-placed socialist party to form a government.

The BSP government was voted into office with the support of the MRF, the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity and with the tacit support of Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalists Ataka.

Boiko Borissov and other senior members of centre-right former ruling party GERB deride this arrangement as an amended version of the tripartite coalition that ran the country from 2005 to 2009 before its defeat at the hands of GERB.

Borissov’s party was damaged by a dirty campaign rife with allegations of abuse of power, coming on top of his resignation as prime minister in the face of street protests mobilised around high electricity prices.

Since coming to power, the BSP government has moved first to roll back the changes and appointments made during GERB’s term of office.

Voluntarily or on request, a number of senior government officials have lost their jobs or resigned.

These include the Interior Ministry chief secretary, the head of the State Agency for National Security, a number of police chiefs including that of Sofia, the head and entire membership of the State Commission on Energy and Water Regulation, the head of the Public Financial Inspection Agency and a large number of regional governors, including that of Sofia.

But within the socialist party, there have been grumblings about the appointments made by the new regime, first regarding the members of the cabinet which Plamen Oresharski – a former finance minister and not the BSP leader – was put in place to head.

Posts were handed to some BSP veterans or other high-profile party members, some to MRF people and one or two to “experts”.

After the cabinet was named, there were leaks to the media about unhappiness within socialist party ranks about people put there, including about “disproportionate” rewards for the MRF and about people supposedly linked to Borissov being granted power.

Most of all, there was unhappiness in some circles in the party about the lack of transparency by which the cabinet was appointed. Not even Oresharski seemed to be fully in the know, on at least two occasions mispronouncing the names of members of his cabinet as he introduced them.

Further, the “Oresharski Plan” for governance – a hodgepodge of reform plans, in some places rather vague on detail about how these could be achieved – also has caused discontent for representing steps away from the party’s election platform, including, vitally, on tax reform policy.

Matters got slightly worse when it emerged that some cabinet appointments appeared to have been made on the basis, so media reports said, of close personal relationships rather than political credentials or even the “expertise” that the BSP had claimed this cabinet would boast.

Currently, the BSP and MRF are in difficult negotiations in sharing out the spoils in naming regional governors. According to unconfirmed media reports, MRF negotiators have asked for their people to be named to regions where the MRF has no traditional presence, upsetting some BSP members. At least one argument is over the Sofia region, where the MRF has demanded the naming of one of its own, while the socialists want that prize for themselves.

Reportedly, the socialists have counter-offered that the regional governorships of regions where the BSP failed to defeat GERB, including the Black Sea cities of Varna and Bourgas and the Danubian city of Rousse – should go to the MRF. Final decisions were to be made after BSP leader Sergei Stanishev returned from a visit to Brussels and rejoined the negotiating table.

Against this background of his party’s rivals seeming obsessed with issues other than the cost-of-living difficulties that precipitated Bulgaria’s national political crisis in early 2013, Borissov was scornful.

Speaking to journalists on June 5, the former prime minister said, “in a few months time, people will ask them, ‘what about my electricity bill?’, ‘what about incomes?’ and what will happen then?” Borissov said.

For the time being, however, Bulgaria’s political landscape is such that the BSP, MRF and Ataka need each other to forestall any risk, as they see it, of a return to power by Borissov and GERB – meaning that they will be well-motivated to sit firmly on the volcano lid of internal dissent.