The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party’s (BSP) national council, after a meeting lasting several hours on August 17, chose former Air Force commander Roumen Radev as its candidate in the country’s presidential elections on November 6 – a nomination to be shared with Georgi Purvanov’s socialist splinter party ABC.
The length of the meeting was an indication of internal divisions in the BSP over the nomination of Radev, who was chosen out of an original field of seven possible candidates on August 17, after two days earlier Ombudsman Maya Manolova withdrew, alleging the outcome to be fixed.
Among the first of the other candidates to withdraw in the morning was Mihail Mikov, a former leader of the BSP, who said that there was no point in participating in a race that had a foregone conclusion.
At the final stage of the secret-ballot vote, among three remaining candidates, Radev got 99 votes, Roumen Gechev 38 and Tasko Ermenkov 13.
Some in the BSP have been rankled by Radev being seen as the choice of Purvanov, who led the BSP before his 2001 election as Bulgaria’s president. Purvanov had two terms as president, ending in the beginning of 2012, when he then sought to get the BSP leadership back from his former protege Sergei Stanishev.
When this failed, Purvanov formally turned the so-called “civic movement” ABC that he had founded while still president, into a political party. His ABC took part in the Borissov coalition government formed in November 2014, but walked out into opposition in the months ahead of the presidential elections.
All of this behaviour on the part of Purvanov, a skilled behind-the-scenes political operator, has left some BSP figures viewing him and his influence in the coming presidential elections with suspicion.
The “internal opposition” in the BSP against Kornelia Ninova, the party leader elected in May 2016 and who took the party into the deal with Purvanov’s ABC, pushed Roumen Gechev at the national council meeting on August 17, even as others dropped out of the race through the day and in some cases – Iliyana Yotova, Mario Traikov – declared for Radev.
Media reports said that Radev had told the BSP bosses that his nomination was a “great honour”.
Radev reportedly was contacted in late July by Ninova after his nomination was put forward by party community organisations. He was reported to have been “surprised” by the approach.
A critic of the centre-right Borissov government’s policy on relations with Russia, Radev – at an August 16 news conference after his resignation was gazetted – indulged in parting shots at the government, in particular Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev, over policy on air defence and the state of the Air Force.
In choosing Radev, the BSP has opted for a figure with no previous political career and who, apart from relatively rare media appearances in the company of senior government figures while air force commander – a post that he held from 2014 to 2016, had hardly any public profile – but apparently sufficient for local BSP structures to have thought of him, if that claim is true.
Among parties represented in Bulgaria’s National Assembly, the BSP is only the second to have announced a nominee, though that depends on how you count. Earlier, nationalists the Patriotic Front and Ataka named their joint ticket. Given that Radev is also a joint candidate, that means that out of four of a total eight parliamentary groups, only two presidential candidates have emerged.
Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, the largest in the National Assembly and which is shown in all opinion polls to have the most support, has yet to name its presidential candidate, having said that it will do so only in September.
Whoever Bulgaria elects on November 6 will be new to the post, because incumbent President Rossen Plevneliev, whose term ends in January 2017, has said that he would not be available to stand for election to a second and final term.