War and peace? Bulgarian PM Borissov claims ‘wonderful dialogue’ with President Radev

War and peace? Bulgarian PM Borissov claims ‘wonderful dialogue’ with President Radev

Two days after Bulgarian President Roumen Radev said that Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party was waging “undeclared war” on him, Borissov said that he had a “wonderful dialogue” with Radev.

Radev had told reporters on October 2 that if GERB wanted a fight, “they will get it”.

The President said that he had dropped the idea of holding talks with Borissov on the modernisation of Bulgaria’s armed forces because he did not believe that such a meeting would produce a result.

Borissov, addressing a news conference in Varna on October 4, said: “When you are dealing with facts, it is best to speak the truth. President Radev can hold me responsible if my ministers or I have spoken in a way that undermines his prestige. Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic”.

Borissov said that if a member of his Cabinet insulted Radev, he would apologise to the President, but added that Radev’s “people” were attacking him constantly, but this did not affect their relations.

The GERB leader said that he could not tell his parliamentary group to stop the debates in Parliament, just as Radev could not say this to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and this was why it was normal for there to be heated debates in the National Assembly.

Radev won Bulgaria’s presidential elections in 2016 on a ticket that was backed by the opposition BSP. Borissov, who treated the elections as an opinion poll on his government, resigned and prompted early parliamentary elections. In May 2017, Borissov returned to power at the head of a coalition government, with Radev having taken office in January as head of state.

Since then, relations between Borissov and Radev have been complex, with episodes of tension although the two periodically have made shows of unity.

Borissov told the October 4 news conference that his Cabinet was working in sync with the President in order for the state to be stable, but in Parliament, “war” was being waged on his party.

Borissov said that he had no aspirations for the presidential institution. He said that he was not aiming to overthrow the president because such instability would be equal to the fall of the government.

The Prime Minister said that it was important for the government to prioritise spending on the purchase of a new combat aircraft for the Bulgarian Air Force. He repeated the idea circulating in his government for the overhaul of the Air Force’s ageing Soviet-made MiG-29s to be done in the Avionas plant in Plovdiv, which he said would ensure the maximum safety of Bulgarian pilots.

Previously, the second Borissov government moved the overhaul contract to Poland instead of Russia, sparking tensions with the Kremlin. The defence minister in the second Borissov government, Nikolai Nenchev, is currently on trial in connection with his handling of the shifting of the contract.

Nenchev, from the Reformist Bloc that then was a minority partner in government, denies wrongdoing and regards the allegations against him as politically-motivated. Among the witnesses in his trial is Radev, who is a former Air Force commander.

In 2017, there has been further prolonged uncertainty about the process of acquiring new multi-role combat aircraft for the Bulgarian Air Force. Borissov has flip-flopped on the issue, while GERB has sought to pin blame on Radev, as former Air Force commander, in connection with the process that led up to an expert committee naming the Saab Gripen offer as the best.

A parliamentary committee was set up to investigate this process, a move that Radev described at the time as a “tribunal” aimed against him. This committee has, in effect, recommended going back to square one on the jet fighter acquisition process.

Borissov said on October 4, in response to speculation that Radev is planning a political project of his own, that everyone was welcome to come to the party.

On October 2, Radev had told reporters that he was worried that Bulgaria’s EU Presidency in 2018 would be accompanied by scandals, which he said already had begun to “thunder” all over the country.

“I think that the government views this Presidency as a kind of omerta (the mafia vow of silence), which guarantees peace of mind and legitimacy from the outside. We risk it just becoming a showcase of ‘-gates’ that have begun to thunder all over the country.”

The “-gates” reference by Radev was to the Bulgarian media and political habit of affixing the “gate”suffix to the controversy of the day, wearing very thin a cliche based on the name that originated with Watergate in the US in the 1970s.

Radev said that from what he observed at GERB, Borissov either was losing control of his party, or was encouraging the fight against him.

“This battle is going on, although they do not dare officially announce it,” Radev said./IBNA