Bulgaria’s 42nd National Assembly resumed proceedings on January 15 after the festive season recess, with a strong police presence outside to keep protesters at bay, and the customary political posturing inside.
The large turnout of police appeared to outnumber the protesters and barred the anti-government group from occupying the road outside the entrance of the Parliament building. A smaller group of pro-government demonstrators also was present.
In spite of earlier Bulgarian-language media reports that Parliament would struggle to get a quorum to begin proceedings because of a supposed plan by ultra-nationalists Ataka to boycott the sitting, the House was near-full with all parties – including their leaders – present.
The 42nd National Assembly features the anomaly that the largest party, Boiko Borissov’s GERB, is also the opposition because after the May 2013 elections it had no allies in the House with which to form a governing coalition.
As the largest party, it has the prerogative to speak first in the traditional addresses at the resumption of Parliament, but on January 15 Borissov’s party declined.
Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev, fresh from the damaging development of his rival Georgi Purvanov confirming a day earlier that there would be a separate socialist candidate list in the May 2014 European Parliament elections, returned to his theme that when his party had come to power in mid-2013 it had found Bulgaria on its knees and subject to political racketeering.
Turning to his parliamentary group, Stanishev said, “it will get more difficult from now on, with every passing day, because our opponents will stake everything, on the basis of the motto ‘the worse, the better’ – every single action will be politicised”.
Claiming that the government was working with increasing efficiency, Stanishev appeared to make a reference not only to political rivals but also to the continuing anti-government protests – which while albeit smaller in turnout are shown by polls to have majority support among Bulgarians – saying that “we have withstood the pressure of the vilification because of one single reason – we have a cause, we have to save the country”.
Maya Manolova, a BSP MP and one of the deputy presiding officers of Parliament, took to the podium to say that what was happening was a circus, with GERB not wanting to tell voters what it would do in the new political season.
Senior GERB MP Tsetska Tsacheva responded that GERB was not the ruling party and it would be inappropriate for it to take the speaking place that should be used by the government.
Tsacheva said that “every day we ask ourselves who is really governing the country because it is abundantly clear that the prime minister and the government do not have their own will for solution, how and what the BSP and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms have agreed on and what the price of Ataka’s support really is”.
Prominent among the topical issues facing Parliament is the Prosecutor-General’s request for the lifting of the immunity from prosecution of Ataka leader Volen Siderov in connection with alleged assaults during the January 6 Varna Airport incident.
It is appears that GERB and the BSP will vote in favour of removing Siderov’s immunity. Against a background of earlier reports that all Ataka Mps, with several others having been involved in the Varna Airport incident, would renounce their immunity voluntarily, members of the ultra-nationalist parliamentary group told reporters that this was an option being considered.
(Archive photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)