Bulgaria’s Parliament has scheduled a sitting for 9am on May 29 to vote on the proposed Plamen Oresharski cabinet, but the Bulgarian Socialist Party that is behind the proposal appears anxious that ultra-nationalists Ataka could scupper proceedings.
Oresharski formally presented the proposed cabinet structure and list to President Rossen Plevneliev on May 28, with the head of state in turn formally notifying Parliament that he had approved the proposed cabinet being put to the National Assembly for a decision.
Amid the twists and turns following Bulgaria’s May 12 national parliamentary elections, Ataka – the fourth and smallest party in Parliament – seemed to hold it in its power to erect a cul-de-sac sign at the cabinet office door.
In the 240-seat National Assembly, Boiko Borissov’s GERB party has 97 seats, too few for it to win approval for a cabinet in the face of opposition from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Movement for Rights and Freedoms and Volen Siderov’s Ataka.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which have been central to the process of coming up with a cabinet that would feature Oresharski as prime minister, together have 120 seats. Ataka holds the rest, and could decide either to vote for the proposed cabinet or, before that, block proceedings by formally denying the legislature a quorum.
Both Borissov and BSP leader Sergei Stanishev appear to be eyeing Ataka with concern. Borissov said on May 27 that he expected “tricks” to get the Oresharski cabinet approved.
Stanishev, who met Plevneliev in tandem with Oresharski on May 28, said that if Ataka declined to formally register its presence in Parliament at the time of the vote, it would be “irresponsible” and playing according to Borissov’s script, which according to the socialist leader was to destabilise the government and precipitate snap elections.
On May 28, made no public statements about their approach to the proceedings planned for the following day. GERB leader Borissov said that his MPs would attend the sitting but would abstain from voting. He said that the “so-called expert cabinet” would be funny if it was not so dangerous.
Borissov said that the proposed cabinet had failed to remain unreshuffled for 24 hours, a reference to the change of the candidate investment projects minister. Kalin Tiholov withdrew his candidacy after media reports and a furore about his links to a project to build on an ecologically sensitive dune area and was hastily replaced by Ivan Danov, also an architecture professor. Tiholov withdrew, citing the “dirty campaign” against him.
On Monday, Ataka representatives failed to turn up for consultations to which they had been invited by the BSP leadership. It was unclear whether this simply was theatre, to distance the ultra-nationalist party from the Bulgarian Turkish-led MRF for the sake of playing to Ataka’s base, or whether it represented an official distancing of Siderov’s party from the process.
While there are no Ataka members in the proposed cabinet, it remains unclear whether Siderov’s party would be rewarded with positions of influence for tacit support. On the other hand, Siderov has been insistent on saying that his party would support neither a GERB nor a BSP government, telling them from the speaker’s podium in Parliament, “I will be your nightmare”.
Stanishev said that he hoped that Ataka was not following Borissov’s scenario, because Ataka’s followers would come to believe that Siderov wanted Borissov in power.
The socialist leader was touching on a sore point for Siderov, who after the GERB victory in the 2009 national parliamentary elections lent tacit support to Borissov’s government, until some time before mid-way into the GERB administration, Borissov and Siderov became politically estranged.
Relations between GERB and Ataka continue to be complex. After Siderov’s histrionic display at the first sitting of the 42nd National Assembly, in which Siderov addressed foreign ambassadors in the public gallery as “fat-cheeked fellows” and led his caucus in remaining seated during the playing of the EU anthem, Borissov apologised on May 27 to a meeting of EU, United States and Turkish envoys.
Meanwhile, Stanishev called on GERB to withdraw its application in the Constitutional Court to have the elections overturned. Borissov’s party alleges that there was unlawful canvassing on the “day of contemplation” before election day and the results should be thrown out.
According to Stanishev, GERB withdrawing its Constitutional Court challenge to the election would be a “strong, responsible and statesmanlike gesture” that would dispel doubts that Borissov’s party intended to destabilise the country and then “return on a white horse”.
Separately, speaking to journalists on May 28 after the meeting with Oresharski and Stanishev, Plevneliev said that he respected the resolve of the prime minister-designate to form a government, considering the pressure on all politicians in Bulgaria because of low public approval for the political class.
Plevneliev, who came to office as head of state in January 2012 after having been elected on a GERB ticket, said that his constitutional role did not permit him to comment on the proposed structure and membership of the cabinet.
He said that the important thing was that Bulgaria needed a government fast, to get to work solving society’s pressing problems. Plevneliev called for continuity and said that the government should seek to make further progress in areas where there had been tangible achievements while addressing the areas where there were problems.
(Pictured: Siderov at the first sitting of the 42nd National Assembly, with then-acting speaker Stefan Danailov of the Bulgarian Socialist Party looking on.)