Just months ago, on some days it was routine for Bulgaria’s Parliament to be surrounded by protesters – but on May 21, the day the newly-elected 42nd National Assembly started proceedings, there were none to be seen.
This was an irony, to an extent, because it was the protests that precipitated the resignation of Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB government, which left office in the second great political drama in Bulgaria in 2013, the first having been the inconclusive referendum on the future of nuclear power in the country – effectively meaning the Russian-linked Belene project.
It was not long after the Belene referendum that nationwide protests grew over electricity prices. When there was a violent incident in the streets of Sofia, Borissov announced he was stepping down, opening the way for the May 12 early parliamentary elections.
The protests continued after Borissov resigned, but gradually dwindled. When the elections were held, there were some “parties of the protesters” that took part, but none placed anywhere.
Just four parties made it into Parliament, all four well-established on the current political scene; representing none of the changes for which ordinary Bulgarians had been mustered to plead in the streets.
Borissov’s GERB got the largest share of votes, but has found itself highly unlikely to be able to return to power because three anti-GERB parties are ranged against it – the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and Ataka.
On the face of it, under the bright sun that bathed the building of Parliament on the morning of May 21, it may seemed for the political establishment of Bulgaria, nothing had changed.
VIPs were received with formal welcomes – Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Neofit, Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev, Bulgaria’s caretaker Prime Minister Marin Raykov. A strong presence of police surrounded the building, but had no excited throngs to protect the building from.
Indeed, there have been signals from at least one of the protest organisers that protests would resume.
Even the parties that now will have power by default have acknowledged that on the cost-of-living front, nothing has changed – and going by some of their statements ahead of the first sitting of Parliament, it was not clear immediately how much would.
Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev indicated in a television interview that immediate increases to the minimum wage, before the end of 2013, would hardly be possible. However, at the same time, the person to be put forward as prime minister with the backing of the socialists, MRF and Ataka – former finance minister Plamen Oresharski – said that there would be short-term measures, but cautioned that meeting the expectations of the Bulgarian public could not “happen by magic”.
Once whatever drama amid the rival parties in Parliament was over, it remained to be seen whether Parliament would remain a place of calm ceremonials and political point-scoring, or whether a new season of protests outside its walls lay ahead.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)