Of caretaker cabinets and careless talk

Ahead of Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev’s March 12 announcement of the line-up of the caretaker cabinet, speculation about who temporarily will take charge of the country has been the game anyone can play – and the Bulgarian-language media has been playing it with reckless enthusiasm.

The names put forward in various newspapers in the past few weeks have been a veritable who’s who of prominent names in Bulgarian political and business life past and present.

In the final 24 hours before the 4pm announcement, the leading name to take over as acting prime minister, a post that the incumbent will occupy from March 13 until a coalition government is formed after the May 12 ahead-of-term elections, is that of Marin Raykov, currently Bulgaria’s ambassador to France and twice formerly a deputy foreign minister, in the Kostov and Borissov cabinets.

Other names that have been the subject of speculation, occasionally formally denied, have been those of Bulgaria’s European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva (officially denied), Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova (officially denied), business executive Sasha Bezuhanova, Constitutional Court judge and former prosecutor-general Boris Velchev (actually, a constitutional impossibility, as the reporter who cooked that one up should have known) and ambassador to Switzerland and former EU funds minister in the socialist-led tripartite coalition, Meglena Plougchieva.

Mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa said earlier that there had been “speculation” about the names of Plougchieva and the ambassador to Germany, Radi Naidenov, formerly chief of staff of Simeon Saxe-Coburg when the last-mentioned was prime minister.

Early in the game, daily Standart, citing what it described as well-informed sources, said that the caretaker prime minister would be Andrey Delchev, formerly a lawyer for Lukoil and currently head of Bulgaria’s oil and gas association.

Ombudsman Konstantin Penchev was the subject of much speculation that he would be prime minister, which he went on record to deny. Also frequently named as acting prime minister has been Ekaterina Zaharieva, who moved with Plevneliev from the regional development ministry to the Presidency after he was elected head of state.

Also put forward in media reports were the names of central Bulgarian National Bank governor Ivan Iskrov and his deputy Kalin Hristov, prompting the central bank to point out that this would be against the law.

Thus far, expectations have been that the cabinet will have 15 members, counting the interim prime minister. Plevneliev said earlier that there should be three deputy prime ministers.

“The caretaker government will have three deputy prime ministers, one of whom will be in charge of social policy, the other, of European funds management, while the third, of the economic growth of the country. The finance minister will not be a deputy prime minister, in contrast to the structure of the outgoing government. There will be no deputy prime minister of the interior and defence ministries,” Plevneliev said on March 5.

Daily 24 Chassa said that Yordan Hristoskov would be minister of social policy. It named Ivan Stankov, rector of the University of Thrace, as likely agriculture minister, and also named to this post research fund head Plamen Mishev and outgoing deputy minister Tsvetan Dimitrov.

The daily said that Todor Tagarev, a graduate of military schools in Bulgaria, Russia and the US, had been invited to be defence minister. Tagarev is a senior researcher in cybernetics, a former head of defence planning at the Defence Ministry and later head of armaments policy.

For the finance portfolio, according to 24 Chassa, there were four options – United People’s Party head Maria Kapon, current head of Parliament’s committee on the Budget, Menda Stoyanova, former deputy finance minister Karina Karaivanova and agriculture fund chief Roumen Porozhanov. Karaivanova was the favourite for the post, the daily said.

Stefan Vodenicharov, recently appointed education minister – taking leave from being the boss of the Bulgarian Academy of Science to become, unwittingly, one of Bulgaria’s shortest-serving ministers – could remain in the post, reports said. Legal academic Atanas Semov put Vodenicharov up for promotion, telling bTV that he would make a fine acting prime minister.

At the foreign ministry, Raykov also was named as acting foreign minister, as was ambassador in London Konstantin Dimitrov, like Raykov a former deputy foreign minister. Separate media reports had Nikolai Mladenov remaining in the post (a scenario that found favour with some fingers on keyboards, that also kept Simeon Dyankov in place as finance minister). Recycling was a not unpopular sport, with some reporters returning Traicho Traikov to the economy ministry and bringing Vassil “Luciano” Ivanov, the confectionery business owner, back to the sports ministry portfolio he occupied during the Saxe-Coburg administration. Reports said that Vezhdi Rashidov had been offered the chance to remain culture minister, but had turned the offer down out of loyalty of Boiko Borissov. In his place, reporters said that the culture post would be taken either by Plevneliev’s cultural affairs adviser Kiril Topalov or writer Anton Donchev.

Bet-hedging has also not been unpopular. Some reports had it that should Zaharieva not become interim prime minister, she would be regional development minister.

On March 12, Mediapool said that appointments considered “almost certain” were the head of the Interior Ministry’s EU and international co-operation directorate, Petya Purvanova, as interior minister; Ekaterina Zaharieva as regional development minister, Plevneliev’s secretary for social policy, youth and sport, Deyana Kostadinova, as minister of labour and social policy, actor Vladimir Penev as minister of culture and swimming champion Petar Stoychev as sports minister.

Kostadinova “could” become deputy prime minister and social minister, several reports said. But then, other reports said that the social minister would be Kamelia Lozanova, director of the National Employment Agency.

As a final note, reports said that a motivation for Plevneliev to bring forward by a day his announcement of who would be in the caretaker cabinet was the amount of media speculation about it.

(Photo of Plevneliev: president.bg)



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.