The announcement on May 20 by Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev that he will not be a candidate for re-election in autumn came as no particular surprise to observers, but predictably parties on the left and right sought to put their spin on it.
Plevneliev, in office since January 2012, made the announcement about five months before elections are expected to be held, and eight months before the end of his term.
Recently, he had dropped hints he would not be a candidate – more than once referring to presidential election candidates in the third person – but had said that he would make his decision known only by the end of June.
GERB, Boiko Borissov’s party that nominated Plevneliev in 2011, also had been opaque on the issue in recent months. Borissov said in 2015 that he would prefer a woman candidate for President. In spite of that statement, the name of Tomislav Donchev, currently deputy prime minister in charge of EU funds, has been mentioned in speculation in connection with GERB’s choice of candidate.
Plevneliev, in making his announcement, cited personal reasons, adding however that this did not mean that he was leaving politics – while also adding that he would not founding a political party nor participating in one.
“Once a President, always a President,” Plevneliev said, in a statement in marked contrast with the behaviour of two of his three predecessors, who after leaving office as head of state returned to active politics: Petar Stoyanov as leader of the Union of Democratic Forces, Georgi Purvanov ultimately as leader of the minority ABC party, after Purvanov failed to win back his former post as leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
Speaking on May 20 soon after Plevneliev’s announcement, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, leader of the parliamentary group of Borissov’s GERB party, emphasised that Plevneliev’s decision was a personal one and that Plevneliev should get due recognition for his time as head of state.
“I can say that we in GERB appreciate everything that President Plevneliev has done in a heavy political period in which there was a very serious confrontation,” Tsvetanov said, pointing to the fact that Plevneliev was the only President in the transition years to twice have had to appoint a caretaker government.
Repeatedly in recent months, observers have seen tensions between the President and GERB.
After GERB bowed to a demand by nationalist minority coalition partner the Patriotic Front to oveturn Plevneliev’s veto of a controversial law cutting back the possibilities for Bulgarians outside the country to vote in elections, Plevneliev issued a strongly-worded statement slamming political parties for putting partisan interests above those of the constitution and Bulgaria’s people.
GERB is widely seen as having given into the Patriotic Front for the sake of holding on to, at very least, a floating majority in Parliament, especially after Purvanov’s ABC walked out of the government on May 10.
Patriotic Front co-leader Valeri Simeonov said on May 20 that whether Plevneliev’s announcement that he would not be a candidate in the autumn was for personal reasons or linked to the veto, “no matter, this is good news”.
Simeonov said scathingly of Plevneliev, “well, his future is secure, there is the villa in Chernomorets and the properties in Halkidiki, a place to retire”.
ABC MP Roumen Petkov, a long-time ally of Purvanov since their days together in the BSP, said that Plevneliev’s decision was “logical” and lay at the door of GERB, “for a few months now, the leader of GERB (Borissov) had explained that they were seeking a presidential candidate with all the specifics that excluded Mr Plevneliev”.
Plevneliev, Petkov said, had acted with dignity and done what he had to do. Perhaps it was a bit late and made it look as if he had been driven out, Petkov said.
The ABC MP added that Plevneliev’s announcement showed the inability of part of the Reformist Bloc – which a few days ago called for pro-European and centre-right unity behind a Plevneliev candidacy for a second term – to carry out a serious analysis of the political resources available to them.
Kornelia Ninova, the recently-elected leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, also described Plevneliev’s announcement as “logical”.
“He seems to have realised that there was no public or political support for a second term for him and he was not the one for the job,” Ninova said.
Ninova said that instead of uniting the nation, Plevneliev had been divisive. She accused Plevneliev of conducting a “one-sided and imbalanced” foreign policy “that endangered national security at certain times”.
The BSP leader said that Plevneliev had “never” challenged laws that took away rights, in the areas of health care reform, education reform and pension reform. He had, instead, vetoed laws to defend lobbyist and private interests, such as the law on retailers, Ninova said, in a reference to a law vetoed by the President at the time of the failed 2013/14 Bulgarian Socialist Party-Movement for Rights and Freedoms ruling axis.
Chetin Kazak of the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the third-largest party in the Bulgarian Parliament, said that Plevneliev’s decision was a “surprise”.
Plevneliev’s move meant that one of the main potential candidates had given a clear signal that he would not be standing, which opened the way for other candidates. Kazak denied speculation that Plevneliev had declined to stand for re-election because the MRF had refused to support him – a reference to the somewhat bizarre conspiracy theory punted by the PF’s Simeonov, that Plevneliev had vetoed the law on voting abroad in a bid to secure MRF support for a second term.
And as unscientific measure as it may be of opinion, Plevneliev’s noon announcement on May 20 was followed by extensive comments on Facebook – especially from Bulgarians who had supported the 2013/14 protests against the ruling axis of the time and against the abortive appointment of Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security – regretting the announcement by a statesman who repeatedly had acted honourably and maturely amid Bulgaria’s political crises.