The Bulgarian Socialist Party and Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the two major parties in Bulgaria’s ruling axis, have agreed that taxpayer-funded subsidies for political parties should be reduced by 10 per cent.
This emerged after leaders and representatives of the two parties held a “political seminar” at a luxury hotel in the Borovets winter resort.
The BSP, current holder of the mandate to govern in spite of running second in the May 2013 parliamentary elections, earlier had promised a reduction to state subsidies for political parties.
So far, this is on the list of unfulfilled promises, with Parliament’s committee on the budget having left subsidies unchanged for next year, meaning that taxpayers will hand over about 39 million leva in subsidies for parties in 2014.
Under the current system, not only do parties in Parliament get subsidies, but also those that get more than one per cent of the vote, even when falling behold the threshold for seats in the legislature.
The largest-scale recipient of a subsidy at the moment is centre-right GERB, the former ruling party that won the largest single share of votes in the May 2013 parliamentary elections, which however did not return to power because it had no allies in the 42nd National Assembly with which to form a governing coalition.
Local media reported BSP leader Sergei Stanishev as telling reporters, on the issue of completely abolishing state subsidies for political parties, “we are witnessing a campaign against political parties. It is also a campaign against democracy, because there can be no democracy without political parties”.
Stanishev said that even what he called the “largest party”, the BSP, could not survive on membership fees alone, “so our society wants public funding to be available to the parties. Anything else would cost taxpayers infinitely more”.
MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan rejected what he called the “extreme populism” of abolishing or radically reducing state subsidies for parties, “because this would imply a resurrection of the corporate circles”.
The statements come against a background of a prolonged desultory debate about state funding for political parties, initially established with the idea of enabling parties to participate without being dependent on private sector funding. However, a crucial aspect of debate on political parties precisely involves the influence of business circles, and a continuing effective lack of transparency on the sources – other than state subsidies – of funding for Bulgaria’s political parties.
At the same time, in an interview with local media ahead of the stance announced by Bulgaria’s ruling axis, elections expert Mihail Konstantinov said that party subsidies should be reduced.
According to Konstantinov, state funding in Bulgaria for political parties was eight or nine times more than than in Germany, while Bulgarians’ income was just a fifth of that of Germans.
“We are the worst off, but our parties are the largest spongers,” he said.
The anti-government Protest Network dismissed the 10 per cent cut that the ruling axis had spoken of as merely “symbolic”.
The Protest Network noted that it was at the time of the BSP-led tripartite coalition government (in which the MRF was a partner) that state subsidies for parties were sharply increased. Since then, these parties had left unfulfilled promises to reduce them, while former ruling party GERB was “guiltily silent”.
The affluence afforded to political parties by the subsidies was inappropriate, and these subsidies should be cut by half at least, the Protest Network said.
Parties should be deprived of the comfort afforded them by the subsidies and thus show solidarity with the cost-of-living difficulties of Bulgarians, the Protest Network said, repeating its call for the resignation of the current government, early parliamentary elections, and an “Operation Clean Hands”.