Calls in Bulgarian Socialist Party for leadership change after European Parliament elections rout
Sergei Stanishev’s leadership of the Bulgarian Socialist Party is being called into question by some BSP MPs after the party’s swingeing defeat in the European Parliament elections – although this is hardly the first time that Stanishev has faced such challenges after the succession of defeats to which he has led to the party.
Final election results, as announced by the Central Election Commission on May 28, showed that the BSP, current holder of the mandate to govern, got 18.93 per cent of the vote, a poor second behind centre-right opposition GERB’s 30.4 per cent.
Stanishev, the 48-year-old who also is leader of the Party of European Socialists, became leader of the BSP in December 2001 after his political sponsor, Georgi Purvanov, was elected Bulgaria’s head of state.
Through all of the country’s successive parliamentary, municipal, European Parliament and presidential elections, the BSP either has been defeated or failed to achieve decisive victory. Ironically, however, under Stanishev’s leadership it twice has been in government – first from 2005 to 2009 at the head of a motley coalition, and now, because after the May 2013 national parliamentary elections, first-ranked GERB had no allies with which to form a coalition to continue in government.
Time and again, Stanishev has seen off calls for his resignation or outright challenges to his leadership. He won in a duel with Purvanov, who sought back the BSP leadership from his former protege after his time as president came to an end. Purvanov entered his own ABC into the European Parliament lists in 2014, taking away some BSP voters but failing to get any of his candidates elected.
After the rout of May 25 2014, Stanishev’s position is again up for debate, even though at an election night news conference he said that he would step down neither as BSP leader nor as PES leader, rejecting claims that the EP elections had in effect been a referendum on the current government, which is reviled by the majority of Bulgarians – going by opinion polls and the election results.
Iliyana Yotova, a 49-year-old former reporter who has been a BSP MEP since 2007 after having been an MP for the party and who was one of four BSP members elected to the European Parliament in May 2014, said that at the next meeting of the executive bureau of the party, she would call for the resignation of the party’s leadership and new internal elections.
Yotova, in an interview with TV7, described the European Parliament elections as a “bereavement” for the BSP.
“There must be a serious healing process in the party, as next year’s municipal elections are waiting.”
She said that there were ministers who had failed to carry out the rapid and radical reforms with which the party had won the trust of many Bulgarian citizens. “At first reading, I would say that the people who had stood with us, from outside the core of the BSP (electorate), have showed us a red card,” Yotova said.
The people who had voted for the BSP had expected to experience faster change in the way the country was run, but this had not happened, Yotova said.
But, at the same time, she said that the statement by Lyutvi Mestan – leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the BSP’s ruling axis partner – that the current government would not last its term of office, had been “misunderstood” by the media. (Mestan himself sought to backtrack on his statement, a few hours after making it on May 28.)
Yanaki Stoilov, leader of the left-wing faction in the BSP, also has called for a change of the BSP leadership by the next elections. Stoilov, who made a similar call after the BSP’s 2009 defeat at the hands of GERB in the parliamentary elections, said that the government should revise its programme and did not rule out a reshuffle in the cabinet.
BSP MP Dimitar Gorov, of Lovech – where local party structures have called for the leadership to step down – called for changes to the party leadership, as early as this week, according to a report by Bulgarian National Radio.
“For this result, no one is innocent,” Gorov said. Stronger action was needed, including regarding the management of the country and, if necessary, there should be a cabinet reshuffle, he said.
The BSP’s “responsibility” in running the country should be expressed in imposing a policy that was definitely that of the BSP and coalition partners should comply with it, Gorov said.
This latter point was a reference to misgivings expressed by BSP members at various points in the year, as of May 29, that the current government came to power – that the real decision-making power lies with the MRF and not with the BSP. Purvanov made several direct references to this during his ABC’s election campaign, seeking to tap into resentment among BSP supporters about the party’s status in government being that of passenger, not driver.
Controversial BSP MP Strahil Angelov, who has clashed in recent months with party leadership over, among other things, his trip to Syria, said that he would “advise” the BSP leadership to accept a course towards early elections. This would be the responsible position for the party to take, Angelov said.
Unconfirmed reports in the Bulgarian-language media, meanwhile, said that party HQs were still be sounded out about Stanishev being nominated as Bulgaria’s European Commissioner (separately, there has been a political row about the current government going ahead with putting forward a nomination, with opposition leader Boiko Borissov saying that it has no moral right to do so, given the BSP’s election defeat.)
The idea, reportedly, among some within the BSP is that nominating Stanishev to be Bulgaria’s European Commissioner would restore his prestige lost after the latest election defeat.
Separately, media reports on May 29 said that discreet behind-the-scenes talks were going on, involving national party leaders, on the date and conditions for the dissolution of the 42nd National Assembly and the holding of parliamentary elections before the end of 2014.
A vote of no confidence in the government, tabled by GERB before the European Parliament elections on the grounds of the government’s failings in energy policy, is due to be voted on in Parliament on May 30. Given that at most only GERB and perhaps a few renegade MPs may vote in favour, it is expected to be defeated.
The same day, President Rossen Plevneliev, who has been conducting discreet discussions with various political leaders about the outcome of the European Parliament elections, is to make a statement to the nation.
A report in daily Sega said that within political circles, scenarios being discussed including the dissolution of Parliament but the government remaining in place to prepare for elections in October.
However, many BSP MPs were unhappy with the idea of elections, given the current state of the party, while ultra-nationalists Ataka, which won no MEP seats, certainly did not want to face elections in which Volen Siderov’s party was hardly likely to be re-elected.
Plamen Oresharki, appointed on May 29 2013 to sit in the prime minister’s chair in the BSP cabinet, said that he could not comment on the future of his office until he had consulted with the leaders of the BSP and the MRF.
“To Plamen Oresharki, being prime minister was never a childhood dream,” Oresharski told reporters.