An opinion survey in June 2012 said that Bulgarians – who are about a year away from national parliamentary elections – were losing interest in new political parties. The results of the survey, if true, do not seem likely to discourage the country’s political cottage industry of producing new parties.
Parties that are less minority than miniscule are something of a tradition in Bulgaria’s post-communist democracy. Presidential elections, of course, have the added benefit of individuals who pop up – some of their names may have been in headlines before, for different reasons, some not.
Alexei Petrov, the former State Agency for National Security consultant and the accused in a trial on serious organised crime charges, stood for president in October 2011. Official results say that 31 613 Bulgarians voted for him, a share of less than one per cent of the vote.
For Petrov, the elections served as a vehicle largely to complain about his persecutors. He has not been alone in this practice, and continues not to be. Some years back, the “Galevi brothers” (they are not actually related) got time off, as the law provides, from their trial to stand in elections. Rejected by the voters, they currently are, however, sought after – by Interpol. Mugshots of the two are among 24 Bulgarians currently posted on Interpol’s website, in the “wanted” section.
Nikolai Tsonev, who was defence minister in the final year of the socialist-led tripartite coalition government, leaving office in mid-2009, had a party background. He was a member of former monarch Simeon Saxe-Coburg’s National Movement for Stability and Progress, but now – having endured a series of failed prosecutions – has emerged with his own party, New Alternative.
Tsonev, presumably not having learnt the lesson of recent Bulgarian political history that anything with “alternative” in its title tends to be stillborn (as per former president Georgi Purvanov’s “civic movement” which also had “alternative” in its title), is remembered for the humiliating treatment dealt out to him by prosecutor Roman Vassilev. Telling him that he was an “absolute criminal”, Vassilev ordered the former cabinet minister to his knees before Tsonev was strongarmed away to the first phase of his flopped court hearings.
Vassilev, by the way, was rebuked at the time for his behaviour but it emerged in May 2012 that he had been promoted.
Quite what policies Tsonev’s New Alternative offers remains unclear. But then, an almost complete absence of coherent policies has seldom discouraged anyone from treading the boards ofBulgaria’s political stage.
So far, we have heard that New Alternative will be a patriotic and liberal party, with four pillars, enumerated as “the nation, the modern economy, law and individual liberty and quality, effective management for the benefit of people”. That jams a lot of things into a list of four, but now may not be the time to quibble about political arithmetic.
Meglena Kouneva, also former of Saxe-Coburg’s party and now with her very own, also stood in the 2011 presidential elections and got a credible 14 per cent without much clarity about what she was offering, beyond a heartfelt promise to listen to what it was that Bulgarians had to say (again, a promise that, if fulfilled, would represent a rare departure in Bulgarian politics).
Kouneva now has a policy platform and ambitions to get 15 per cent in the 2013 national parliamentary elections, although polls currently give her party a bit less than a third of that figure.
This past Sunday was quite the day for new political parties suddenly sprouting. Borislav Tsekov, formerly an MP for – yes, you guessed it, Saxe-Coburg’s party – and Ilia Dzhambazov, director of the Institute for Advanced Policy, announced the founding of “Modern Bulgaria”.
ModernBulgaria(which, confusingly, denies that it is a party) wants “constitutional and legislative changes to create a new balance of powers, and real civilian control over the judiciary and all the regulatory and supervisory bodies”.
It wants electoral reform, which may suggest that its 77-member initiative committee includes no one who was paying attention when the current Cabinet approved a report on electoral reform last month.
Also a newcomer, though now slightly crowded out in the novelty value stakes, is Dimitar Stoyanov’s Bulgarian National Union, a splinter from Ataka, the party of Stoyanov’s former stepfather Volen Siderov.
However insignificant the electoral prospects of parties such as those of Kouneva and Tsonev currently seem, they do serve as an annoyance to parties already in the field, especially those that have their own troubles such as Ivan Kostov’s Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, which is said by pollsters to have slim chances to returning to Parliament next year and which shed members to Kouneva.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Dogan’s Movement for Rights and Freedoms has managed to grab some headlines and, it appears, a lot of resentment by proposing that electoral law be changed to allow election campaigning in languages other than Bulgarian.
The proposal is that this be allowed provided that translation is arranged. Considerable skepticism greeted the proposal from a party that is led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent. The general view is that it was not thinking of English or German when it put forward its idea.
Bulgaria’s ruling party, centre-right GERB, has rushed to pour cold water on the proposal by Dogan’s party.
In response to MRF deputy leader Lyutvi Mestan saying that the constitution provided that Bulgarian citizens whose mother tongue is not Bulgarian have the duty to study and use the official Bulgarian language and the right to study and use also their own language, senior GERB MP Iskra Fidosova said: “Article 53 of the Bulgarian Constitution gives an opportunity for every Bulgarian citizen to study the Bulgarian language. That’s why someone’s lack of knowledge of the Bulgarian language is not justification for holding electioneering in a language other than Bulgarian”.
Fidosova said that an election campaign in a language other than Bulgarian would mean some politicians’ message would not be understandable and this would be risky.
She missed the point, perhaps, that with Bulgaria’s parties big and small, old and new, significant and insignificant, comprehensibility is not always a matter of linguistics.