Bulgaria’s socialist opposition parties have seized on the failure of the Bulgarian candidates – one official and the other not – in the race to be United Nations Secretary-General, calling on Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and his government to resign and for the withdrawal of Kristalina Georgieva from her European Commission post.
The calls came on October 6 after the UN Security Council anointed António Gutérres as its choice to be the next UN Secretary-General.
Not only did this mean defeat for Georgieva, a late entry in the race after her September 26 nomination by Borissov’s government, but also unofficial accounts of the Security Council vote showed that Irina Bokova – the initial Bulgarian candidate, dumped in favour of Georgieva – had outdone Georgieva in the final round.
The morning after the vote, the political blame game was being played with enthusiasm by the opposition – no less so because on top of Bulgaria’s flop at the UN, October 6 marks a month to Bulgaria’s presidential elections.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the second-largest party in Parliament, called for Borissov and his government to resign and for Georgieva to be withdrawn from her post at the European Commission.
Georgieva took leave from her post as European Commission Vice-President in charge of the EU’s budget and human resources to stand in the race. She had been granted leave for the month of October, but her last-minute entry to the race came to an abrupt end with the Security Council October 5 vote.
BSP leader Kornelia Ninova accused Borissov and the government of having deliberately discredited Bokova (named as Bulgaria’s candidate in February under pressure from minority socialist party ABC, then part of the governing coalition; Borissov withdrew the government’s support for Bokova after she produced only dwindling results in the first five Security Council votes).
Ninova said that by putting up the second nomination, Borissov and the government had wilfully discredited Bokova, and, she alleged, had sold out the national interest to serve foreign interests.
Georgieva no longer had the moral standing and dignity to represent Bulgaria at the European Commission, Ninova said.
ABC leader Georgi Purvanov, who at the beginning of 2016 had threatened to pull his party’s support from the government unless Bokova – who has a long socialist pedigree – was nominated, said that Borissov should take political responsibility for the UN Secretary-General race voting results. Purvanov also called for Georgieva to be withdrawn from the European Commission.
For Borissov to meet these demands would be the “manly response in such a situation,” Purvanov said.
Purvanov said that Georgieva’s performance had been humiliating for the Bulgarian state and nation. Borissov had lost Eastern Europe its chance to have a head of the world body, Purvanov said, describing Bokova as a “brilliant diplomat and world leader”.
The leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Mustafa Karadaya, said that the choice of Georgieva had been the result of a behind-the-scenes deal and the government should have the courage to answer the question who was at the bottom of this process.
Tsvetan Tsvetanov, deputy leader of Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, sought to deflect the criticism by saying that while Georgieva and Bokova both had great qualities, geopolitics was important in the Security Council vote.
Everyone had some degree of guilt for the lack of unanimity about Bulgaria’s nomination for the UN Secretary-General post, Tsvetanov said.
Tsvetanov said that in the campaign, there had been internal political conflict in the country. First, Bokova had been the target, and subsequently, Georgieva, he said.
Georgieva, in a Facebook post, said that it had been an honour to be in the race for UN Secretary-General. She wished Gutérres success and thanked the Bulgarian government for the trust it had put in her.
The strange saga of Bulgaria’s UN candidacy began at the time of the 2013/14 ruling axis, when the BSP held the mandate to govern. Not long before the “Oresharski” cabinet left office, a result of BSP electoral failure in the 2014 European Parliament elections and the many months of protests calling for its resignation over the abortive appointment of Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security, the outgoing administration made a behind-closed-doors decision to nominate Bokova.
The question was left in abeyance at an official level for some months, with the BSP and ABC making repeated calls for Bokova – scion of a communist family, a former BSP deputy minister and a failed vice-presidential candidate in the 1990s on a BSP ticket – to be nominated by the Borissov government that took office in November 2014.
While there was repeated speculation that the Borissov government would rather opt for Georgieva, respected for her track record at the World Bank and at the European Commission and also aligned with the centre-right European People’s Party group at EU level, Borissov went ahead with the Bokova nomination, under pressure from Purvanov and after Georgieva said that she intended staying at her post at the Commission.
Borissov, it seemed, had made a political choice of maintaining maximum support for his government (futilely, as it would turn out, when Purvanov led ABC out of government in May), above other considerations. The Bokova camp repeatedly intimated that Bulgarian officials did not really have their hearts in supporting her candidacy – and, indeed, that some Bulgarians were discreetly briefing against Bokova.
Nor did it go unnoticed that a significant proportion of the Foreign Ministry officials named to work on the Bokova campaign had backgrounds with Bulgaria’s communist-era secret service State Security. This deepened the sense of political divisiveness about the Bokova candidacy.
More than just the suspicion that Bulgarian officials were merely going through the motions about supporting Bokova, Georgieva’s name kept resurfacing in speculation that Borissov’s government would change horses in mid-stream – a fact that also, no doubt, irked the Bokova camp. At Bokova’s banquet, Georgieva’s ghost was always present.
For Bokova, there was another spectre too – the likelihood that in the endgame, at least one veto-holding permanent member of the UN Security Council would block her candidacy.
Then, when the moment came – very late in the game – that Borissov indeed opted for Georgieva, Bokova refused to withdraw. This move led, among other things, to Security Council members including Russia seeking clarity about the status of the two candidates from Bulgaria. Clarity was issued that Georgieva was the sole official candidate of Bulgaria.
But Bokova refused to withdraw from the race, carrying on in her personal capacity. UN rules do not allow a government to withdraw a candidate; the withdrawal must be filed by the candidate herself. So Bokova kept her name on the ballot – and at Georgieva’s banquet, Bokova’s ghost remained present.
As noted, the debacle at Turtle Bay has come just as Bulgaria heads into an official campaign period for November presidential elections.
Borissov, it seems, may hope that the Bokova-Georgieva catastrophe may not resonate with the electorate. Days before the October 5 vote, he said that people did not care whether Bokova or Georgieva was Bulgaria’s candidate, but cared whether their own households had enough money.
The electorate may not care but the opposition has seized on a golden opportunity handed them by the debacle, especially as – not unusually when political temperatures are rising more than usual, naturally customary around election time – the opposition is attempting to table a motion of no confidence in the Borissov government.
Borissov himself has said recently that if his party does not see its candidate win the first round of the presidential elections, his government will resign. Some observers see that merely as rhetoric to get his voters to the polls, to spare themselves the prospect of political instability of the kind seen in 2013 and 2014. But the fact is that in his handling of the UN Secretary-General candidacy saga, Borissov has done himself no favours.