Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party has finessed the Tsvetan Tsvetanov problem by adding two additional deputy leaders to the party.
Tsvetanov has been Borissov’s close lieutenant from the time that GERB was founded around Borissov, serving nominally as the party’s leader while Borissov’s place as mayor of Sofia prevented by law the then-coming man of Bulgarian from formally being leader.
But there have been many months of ever-intensifying attacks against Tsvetanov, whom rival political forces have sought to portray as a sinister law-breaker, in particular for his alleged misconduct regarding illegal eavesdropping while he was interior minister.
More recently, Tsvetanov has been caught up in a tangled public dispute with controversial media magnate Delyan Peevski about alleged interactions between the two figures while Tsvetanov was a cabinet minister, including on the question of Tsvetanov allegedly having asked Peevski to ensure that the media he controls go easy on a number of organised crimes figures.
As had been expected, the GERB congress on February 16 saw Borissov neither jettison Tsvetanov as a liability nor accord him an unqualified place at the centre of the party’s leadership.
An election produced two other deputy leaders – Yordanka Fandukova, two-term mayor of Sofia and one of the few GERB figures still in office and enjoying a national profile after choreographed protests forced the Borissov government out of office in early 2013, and Dimitar Nikolov, mayor of the Black Sea city of Bourgas who holds that post by virtue of landslide election victories and who is seen as harbouring high political ambitions.
In a development so unsurprising as to be hardly worth recording, the congress – attended by more than 1100 delegates – re-elected Borissov as leader of the party that originally had been formed around him.
It fell to Tsvetanov to tell the congress about how GERB had grown, from having about 400 members when it was formally started in 2006, to a current 78 000.
GERB won the largest share of seats in the 42nd National Assembly after Bulgaria’s May 2013 national parliamentary elections, but the second-ranked Bulgarian Socialist Party teamed up with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and with ultra-nationalist party Ataka to leave Borissov isolated and unable to form a new governing coalition.
In the months after the formation of the government in which the BSP formally holds the mandate, there have been large-scale protests demanding its resignation, sparked after the abortive appointment of Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security.
During these months, the momentum has largely been held by the anti-government protests and GERB has lurched around in its strategy within a Parliament that most Bulgarians see as lacking any credibility.
Now, the party is facing Bulgaria’s May 25 2014 European Parliament elections, on which much is seen is riding – notably whether the outcome will provide impetus to demands for fresh national parliamentary elections.
Opinion polls in Bulgaria, which tend to vary in terms of reliability or bias, are divided on whether GERB or the BSP currently have the lead or whether the difference is too close to call.
In terms of a future parliamentary alliance that could block the traditional BSP-MRF collusion, the possibility of co-operation between GERB and the centre-right Reformist Bloc has proved a deeply vexed issue for both parties.
GERB also has had its troubles in the National Assembly, losing some MPs who turned “independent” while a prominent member, former deputy finance minister Vladislav Goranov, announced his resignation as a member of Parliament on February 14, saying that he wished to pursue a private sector career as a financial expert.
Alienated former senior members of GERB earlier founded a rival minority party around former agriculture minister Miroslav Naidenov.
However, the emergence of Georgi Purvanov’s ABC movement as an alternative to Sergei Stanishev’s BSP is widely seen as having the potential to split the leftist vote, to some degree or another, thus benefiting GERB.
Tsvetanov told delegates at the GERB congress that the European Parliament elections would determine the future of the party in government.
He said that he was “convinced” that GERB would have the most MEPs after the EP elections.