Bulgaria’s parliament paralysed as pressure mounts on government to bring forward resignation

The sitting of Bulgaria’s National Assembly on July 4 was cancelled as, for the third consecutive day, it failed to secure a quorum as centre-right opposition GERB brings pressure to bear on the government to bring forward the date of its resignation.

Bulgaria is to hold ahead-of-term parliamentary elections on October 5 and the National Assembly is due to be dissolved on August 6.

Plamen Oresharski, occupant of the prime minister’s chair in the cabinet appointed on the basis of a mandate handed to the second-ranked Bulgarian Socialist Party after the May 2013 early elections, on July 4 further narrowed the timeframe in which he will hand in his resignation.

He said that it would be between July 23 and 25, earlier having indicated that July 23 was the most likely date as this would give the National Assembly the ensuing Thursday and Friday to vote to accept it.

With far-right ultra-nationalists Ataka, on whom the ruling axis of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms have depended for the past year to secure a quorum now boycotting proceedings, the National Assembly has to rely on GERB to make up the numbers.

But Boiko Borrisov’s party, the largest in the National Assembly, has said that it would return to the House only for the vote on the cabinet’s resignation.

After the failure to achieve a quorum on July 4, socialist Speaker of Parliament Mihail Mikov said that the next sitting would be on July 9.

But setting that date for the next sitting also could be an exercise in futility if GERB continues to stay away.

Borissov announced the boycott on July 2, accusing other parties of reneging on agreements on the political way forward reached at June 29 all-party consultations with head of state President Rossen Plevneliev.

Widely-supported public protests have been demanding the resignation of the current cabinet for more than a year, while the death knell has been sounding ever stronger since the BSP was routed in Bulgaria’s May 25 2014 European Parliament elections, and the lacklustre administration blundered into even further controversies, notably including the European Commission’s infringement procedure over the awarding of the South Stream land section construction project.

The country also has been seized with a contretemps over the banking sector, first with Corporate Commercial Bank being placed under central bank supervision and then with Bulgarian National Bank and state authorities issuing assurances about the stability of Bulgaria’s banking sector after an online anonymous smear campaign was launched against one of the country’s major banks.

Given the timeframes for elections and the proroguing of Parliament, the government should resign between July 21 and 25. But Oresharski claimed in a television interview that given that July 21 was the day on which Corporate Commercial Bank was scheduled to re-open to clients, the resignation of the government on that day “would not be a good sign”.

Even though the government is clinging to power, to the considerable frustration of those who for months have demanded its departure, the sense of paralysis is spreading.

Local media reports noted that Tanya Andreeva, health minister in the BSP government, had applied for long leave, and other cabinet ministers were expected to follow.

A report in daily Sega said that while opposition parties GERB and the Reformist Bloc, the latter the holder of a seat in the European Parliament and highly likely to win seats in the next National Assembly, were demanding the cabinet’s immediate resignation, the BSP wanted to stave off the moment to avoid the perception that there was a link between the controversy about the banks and the departure of the BSP government.

According to this report, the BSP wants to avoid the idea that the party is to blame for the banking controversy and someone else will have to save the situation (an apparent nervousness that ignores hard figures showing appropriate capitalisation and liquidity of Bulgaria’s banking sector; and apparently also ignores that there is no shortage of other reasons to describe the cabinet’s performance as profoundly underwhelming).

The Reformist Bloc has called for a moratorium on large procurement and concession contracts, following reports that in its closing days, the government’s departments have initiated hundreds of public procurement procedures, which if finalised would bind the state to commitments for several years to come.

GERB also has been deeply irked by the ruling axis proceeding to make long-term appointments at the last minute and to try to table bills in Parliament about which there is no all-party consensus.

Lyutvi Mestan, leader of the MRF, said that it was clear from the agreement when Parliament would be dissolved and all that was missing was the date of the resignaton of the government, which procedurally could happen no later than July 25. “If necessary, it should be specified – why not?” he said.

Mestan called for responsible behaviour on the part of all parties represented in Parliament, to honour the agreement reached at the political consultations so that confidence in the institutions and the political system that had been lost could be restored.

He said that there could be no question of changing the election date, because doing so would mean a final collapse of confidence even in the Consultative Council on National Security, where the original timeframe for elections had been agreed.

Mestan said that he did not see the political logic of losing more than two weeks of parliamentary time when there were many important issues on which there was consensus to deal with.

There have been commentaries noting, however, that the MRF would hardly want the October 5 election date changed, because it comes a day after a major Muslim holy day that would bring the majority of the MRF’s electorate home and conveniently close to local ballot boxes.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.