The Bulgarian Socialist Party’s national council meeting on July 5 will decide on whether to hold a party congress ahead of the October 5 early parliamentary elections, with a decision to hold a congress possibly providing a venue for an open challenge to the leadership of Sergei Stanishev.
After the BSP’s devastating defeat in Bulgaria’s May 2014 European Parliament, the latest to which Stanishev – the person who has held the party leadership the longest since the end of the Bulgarian Communist Party era – has led the BSP, there have been renewed calls from within some in the party for him to step down.
From outside the BSP, centre-right GERB leader Boiko Borissov has said that he prays that Stanishev will remain party leader, given Stanishev’s record of failure in elections.
As he did after the May 2013 national parliamentary elections, when the party ran second although by default got the mandate to govern, Stanishev already has secured at a previous national council meeting after the May 2014 European Parliament vote a mandate to lead the party into new elections.
But this has not made misgivings within the BSP go away, with two of its senior members stepping down from deputy leadership posts within the parliamentary group, an MP resigning, and all of that before Stanishev reneged on his promise not to take up the European Parliament seat to which he was elected.
Stanishev portrayed the decision to move from the National Assembly to the European Parliament as necessary because he was needed at the centre of EU affairs. But Stanishev, also leader of the Party of European Socialists, did not even become the political group leader of the main socialist group in the European Parliament and so far has been given no other positions of any significance.
Borissov claimed on July 4 that the current cabinet, now in its last few weeks, intends the parting shot of nominating Stanishev as Bulgaria’s European Commissioner, but reports have suggested that influential voices in Brussels have indicated to Bulgaria that Stanishev should not be the nominee, given the likelihood that he would face particularly difficult questioning at a European Parliament confirmation hearing.
Going by public statements by members of various factions within the BSP, opinions are divided about the political wisdom of holding a congress and effecting a leadership change before the elections. Some, naturally those within the Stanishev camp, believe that it would be too large an adjustment for an already traumatised party. Others, frustrated at Stanishev’s performance and probably with ambitions of their own, foresee only further disaster.
Stanishev and his allies may have sought to dress up his departure for the European Parliament as a response to higher-level responsibilities. Others have criticised him as using his MEP seat as a bolt-hole from the BSP’s troubles. A recent cartoon depicted an exit sign in the National Assembly with, instead of the customary stick figure, a fleeing Stanishev.
To reporters, Stanishev has declined to be drawn on whether he would say anything about resignation at the July 5 meeting, saying only that the agenda already had been approved – an analysis of the political situation, an assessment of the participation of the BSP in the government of the past year, and of the tasks set for Stanishev at the previous full meeting of the BSP.
Unconfirmed media reports have suggested diametrically different scenarios – that Stanishev would offer to step down, or that he would stay in place but announce his resignation at a traditional BSP annual gathering in early August, or that he would make way for an “acting leader” to take the party into national elections while remaining titular leader, or that his current survival plan is to remake the party leadership by offering people from the internal party opposition posts in the management and election campaign headquarters of the BSP.
Svetlana Sharenkova of the Russophile group is among those to have called for Stanishev to step down, as have various other members, while some of those sidelined in May 2013 by Stanishev have seen their chance to underline their criticisms of him.
Roumen Ovcharov, a former Sofia BSP leader and former cabinet minister, among those marginalised by Stanishev ahead of the May 2013 elections, said in a July 4 television interview that the BSP would find itself in a very difficult situation if changes were not made now.
For the past year, the BSP had acted like an economic interest group, said Ovcharov, who criticised appointments made to serve corporate interests.
Ovcharov said that “tomorrow (July 5) I expect reason to prevail and for Sergei Stanishev to show us that he knows how to be responsible, which in words he says dozens of times, but in his actions he does not”.
Vanya Dobreva, a BSP MP and member of the party’s national council, told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio that she expected that on July 5 there would be a serious analysis of the past year and a new composition of the executive council of the BSP. She hoped that these changes would not be merely cosmetic.