Shock as Bulgaria’s government faces tens of thousands in electricity bill revolt

Written by on February 18, 2013 in Bulgaria, News - No comments

Bulgaria’s centre-right government, elected in 2009 and pursuing re-election in 2013, faced its largest challenge yet as tens of thousands of hard-pressed Bulgarians turned out in cities and towns on February 17 2013 to express their outrage against high electricity bills, in protests that were initiated against electricity firms but that rapidly transformed into indignation against the government as a whole.

With tens of thousands of people in the streets in Sofia and other major cities and towns pouring scorn against the government and its works, with protests sporadically descending into skirmishes between protesters and police, major opposition parties were quick to call on Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s government to step down and face elections ahead of schedule.

It was a day of drama less than five months ahead of the expected date of scheduled national parliamentary elections, mooted to be on July 5 2013.

In an ironic twist, on February 17 Prime Minister Boiko Borissov sought and got the resignation of the head of Bulgaria’s State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission, because it emerged that a company she owned had been illicitly trading online in cigarettes. But even as that story developed, ordinary people – with opposition political parties eagerly hopping on the bandwagon – were demanding the resignation of Borissov and his government.

Tens of thousands of people in almost all large Bulgarian cities staged protests against the high electricity bills and the “monopolies” in the energy sector.

In Sofia, the protestors numbered several thousands. According to the Interior Ministry, about 4000 of them were involved in clashes with the gendarmerie in an attempt to reach the building of the CEZ electricity distribution company in Sofia, Bulgarian news agency BTA said. After the expiry of the authorised time for protests, during which the participants marched from the building of the Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism to the National Assembly, the protestors did not disperse but blocked the crossing at Eagle’s Bridge. Protestors in Blagoevgrad blocked the E79 main road for about an hour and a half. More than 2000 residents of the town of Doupnitsa also blocked the E79 road. There were blocked roads in other parts of the country as well.

The State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission (SEWRC) held a meeting on February 17 to discuss a report by the Public Financial Inspection Agency (PFIA) on the check of the CEZ electricity distribution company. The Commission heard a PFIA representative regarding the established violations and whether they could serve as grounds to revoke the licence of CEZ, Economy and Energy Minister Delyan Dobrev told a hastily-summoned news conference, emerging from a meeting with the Prime Minister.

The opposition in Bulgaria called for the government’s resignation and early parliamentary elections.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) called for dissolving the current Parliament and holding early parliamentary elections because of the “ongoing agony” of ruling party GERB, from which Bulgaria was losing, MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan said in the southern Bulgarian town of Kurdjali, local news agency Focus said.

Mestan urged Borissov to resign, saying that Bulgaria needed a government with new a credit line of confidence and that the MRF, as a political party, had undertaken a step in that direction.

I cannot predict in what direction the protests that have gripped Bulgaria will develop, but the government has no adequate answer, Mestan said. The protests are against both high electricity price and low incomes, he said.

Mestan said that a year and a half ago MRF honorary chairman Ahmed Dogan had announced the party’s major goal – to topple GERB from power. Back then Dogan said Borisov’s government was a complete failure.

“I do not know whether there will be peace, if they do not go away peacefully,” said Mestan.

“Sooner or later the empty refrigerator eats up the television image,” he said.

“Given the risk of further escalation of the tension in the streets of Bulgaria, the MRF believes the situation should be managed with the tools of the democracy, which means a civilized outcome of the tension. Having made a brief analysis, we think the outcome is early elections. If the government and the CEDB turn stubborn and want to complete the government’s term, they claim a hard responsibility for the further escalation of the tension. They will be responsible also for the consequences,” Mestan said.

He said that GERB had lost control of the country and it was disturbing that the ruling party wanted to maintain control of Bulgaria through police methods.

Volen Siderov’s minority ultra-nationalist party Ataka called on Borissov’s government to resign, because the government was unable to cope with “the foreign monopolies and colonisation of the country.” Ataka wanted “a government of Bulgarian national interest immediately which should hold fair and transparent elections and prevent the government’s ballot-rigging.”

Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev called for the government’s resignation and urgent consultations.

 

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About the Author

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015).