Bulgaria’s electricity protests continue in major cities

The series of protests against electricity companies and high bills that brought a reported 100 000 people on to the streets of 35 cities and towns in Bulgaria this past weekend were scheduled to continue on February 18 2013.

In Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia, protesters were to gather at 6pm at Eagle Bridge, in Plovdiv the protests were to start at 5pm at the EVN building while protesters in the Black Sea city of Varna also were planning to gather again.

The State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission was to begin checks on February 18 into whether EVN and Energo Pro were complying with their licences. An investigation into CEZ, the power distribution company in Sofia, was said by Economy, Energy and Tourism Minister Delyan Dobrev to have found breaches of CEZ’s licence conditions, and the question of whether this would mean revocation of the licence was being discussed, he said.

According to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, it was expected that this week there would be legislative initiatives on declassifying the contracts with the three electricity distribution companies and to prevent them transferring profits to other companies to avoid taxes. Also be considered was instituting annual review of costs to end users.

The huge scale of the protests, which in some cities including Sofia saw some protesters clashing with police and saw protesters hurling stones, bottles and fruit at Parliament, government offices and some of the offices of power distribution companies, prompted opposition parties to call on Bulgaria’s centre-right GERB government to make way for ahead-of-term elections. Regular national parliamentary elections are expected to be held in July 2013.

Some commentators saw the large-scale protests as having transformed from ire about electricity bills to a general challenge to the government.

Speaking to bTV on February 18, polling agency chief Nikola Kolev said that while the ratings of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) had not risen, those of ruling party GERB had fallen to the extent that the socialists now had a better score than the government.

Kolev said that the nationwide electricity protests, the shooting of Zlatomir “Baretata” Ivanov outside Sofia’s main court building and the incident involving the pointing of a gas pistol at Ahmed Dogan at a Movement for Rights and Freedoms party congress gave people the impression that “nothing is working”.

Polling agency chief Emil Georgiev told bTV that the organisers of the electricity protests had not wanted involvement by political parties but the BSP and ultra-nationalists Ataka were trying to ride the wave.

Andrei Raichev, a left-wing commentator and also head of a polling agency, said that Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s charisma was proving to be insufficient in the face of public discontent. The three pollsters agreed that the protests would subside after a week or so but the discontent would not. According to Raichev, the electricity protests were the beginning of the end for GERB and it would lose the next parliamentary elections.





The Sofia Globe staff

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