While the current Bulgarian Socialist Party government is adamantly refusing to bow to months of popularly-supported public protests demanding its resignation, some within the ruling axis or at its fringes are talking openly about the possibility of early elections.
Whether any of this talk would prove to be more than idle – or in the case of Ataka leader Volen Siderov, an idle threat – is an open question.
Going by opinion polls, support for ultra-nationalist leader Siderov and his party plummeted after May given his role in keeping in place a government in which the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity – has a decisive role in government.This role was out of kilter with the anti-Turkish, Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric on which Siderov has built his political career.
But Siderov appears to have staged a slight political recovery after seizing on the issue of the refugee situation in Bulgaria, seeking to portray the influx of people fleeing the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa as a supposed plot to “Islamicise” Bulgaria. His fear-mongering and defiant “patriotic” statements seem to have resonated with his electoral base.
Against this background, Siderov told a rally of his supporters in the town of Sliven on November 24 that if the current government did not comply with Ataka’s demands about the migrants, the government would “drop painfully from power”.
This is a reference to Ataka’s role in making up the numbers to provide quorums for sittings of the 42nd National Assembly to proceed.
Siderov’s demands include Bulgaria shutting its border with Turkey and the expulsion of all illegal migrants.
Meanwhile, Kamen Kostadinov, a member of Parliament for the MRF, said on November 23 that it is possible that there would be early parliamentary elections in autumn 2014 if the ruling parties produce poor results in Bulgaria’s May elections of members of the European Parliament.
Bulgaria will have 17 MEPs in the next European Parliament and the BSP and MRF should win at least nine seats to prove that the two parties have the public’s trust, Kostadinov said.
A few days previously, the deputy leader of the MRF parliamentary caucus, Yordan Tsonev, also said that the fate of the current government would be decided in the European elections.
From within the BSP, there also has been talk of early elections, but largely only from the currently vanquished faction around former leader Georgi Purvanov.
Purvanov lost a bid in 2012 to grab back the party leadership from Sergei Stanishev, his former protege who has headed the BSP since Purvanov relinquished the BSP leadership on being elected head of state at the end of 2001.
Stanishev’s vulnerability not only is in the BSP’s performance in the May 2014 European Parliament elections but also that of socialists across the EU, given his current role as head of the Party of European Socialists.
Directly or obliquely, Stanishev regularly is attacked in public statements by Purvanov, and the former leader’s close allies Roumen Petkov and Ivailo Kalfin.
Petkov said this past weekend that early national parliamentary elections should be held to achieve stability as well as to “take the BSP out of the trenches and from behind the crowd control barriers”.
This latter statement is a reference to the continuing anti-government protests and the fact that almost throughout its existence, the 42nd National Assembly has operated behind a police cordon and temporary metal barriers, recently upgraded to a stronger model.
However, the mainstream of the current ruling axis likes to push the message that even were elections to be held, the outcome would be similar to the current situation, the implication being that former ruling centre-right party GERB again would not be able to muster the numbers to govern, and that a BSP-MRF governing arrangement again would result, the only change being in the minority parties in a new Parliament. Anti-government protesters customarily argue that this is not the point, and that the current government is utterly discredited.
(Archive photo from anti-government protests in the early days of July: Vassil Garnizov)