Bulgarian parties grandstand on pre-election coalitions

As might be expected, most Bulgarian political parties will go it alone in their campaigns ahead of the country’s October 5 elections – whether or not they have a choice in the matter.

Among the more significant parties, on the centre-right, GERB and the Reformist Bloc will have no election agreement, and on the left, the question of whether there could be a pre-election deal between the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and breakaway ABC movement is a prickly one.

The embattled BSP, which on July 27 elected Mihail Mikov as its new leader, has been hammering a talking point that there is supposedly a new coalition understanding between Boiko Borissov’s GERB and the BSP ‘s estranged ruling axis partner, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

Apart from a degree of desperation, perhaps inspired in part by the first opinion polls ahead of the elections suggesting that the BSP is in for another sound thrashing, the BSP is basing its thesis on what it sees as collusion between Borissov and MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan on supporting proposed amendments to the national Budget.

Recent days have seen the extraordinary spectacle of the BSP opposing the Budget amendments proposed by the very cabinet it put in place, as that cabinet heads towards its demise.

Responding to claims of a GERB-MRF new coalition – claims that have gone so far as to suggest that against existing political agreements, the ritual handing of a mandate to govern to the MRF will be used to form a new government in the framework of the current National Assembly – Borissov said that his party’s “moderate tone” at the moment towards the MRF was motivated solely by the idea of preserving ethnic harmony.

Speaking on July 26 to local television station bTV, Borissov said that at this stage, it was not possible to have a coalition between his party and that of Mestan.

He said that the BSP campaign to suggest that there would be a GERB-MRF coalition was part of an enormous effort by the BSP to distance itself from the MRF and the damage that their political association has done.

As for the BSP, one of the challenges for the battered party is in its relations with ABC, the breakaway movement founded around Georgi Purvanov, party leader before the 2001 election to that post of Sergei Stanishev after Purvanov became Bulgaria’s head of state.

In Bulgaria’s May 2014 European Parliament election, Purvanov’s ABC stood in opposition to the Stanishev BSP, a move that was in part a legacy of the bad blood between Purvanov and Stanishev after the former head of state tried and failed to grab back the leadership of the BSP from Stanishev.

Purvanov’s ABC won no MEP seats but, after the extent of the BSP rout began to become clear, Stanishev first laid the blame at the door of ABC.

In his valedictory speech on July 27 as leader of the BSP, Stanishev devoted several paragraphs to relations with ABC, starting by spelling out his vision for the “Coalition for Bulgaria” group, an umbrella entity in which the BSP has dominated since its founding in 2001.

Technically, while standing down as leader of the BSP, Stanishev remains the head of the Coalition for Bulgaria, however politically meaningless that may become in the medium to long term.

Stanishev said that he wanted to put a lot more of his “experience and knowledge” into strengthening the Coalition for Bulgaria’s potential.

Specifically on the topic of ABC, he said that it was one of the main reasons for the BSP’s election defeat and said that “many of our supporters were divided, bitter, confused and just not coming out to vote”. People had “misunderstood” the phenomenon as a personal rivalry between himself and Purvanov, Stanishev said.

After a further few sideswipes at ABC, Stanishev said that “as a strong party, in the name of Bulgaria, we must be ready to talk with ABC to counter GERB”.

But Ivailo Kalfin, who was Stanishev’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister in the 2005/09 cabinet, was the BSP’s failed presidential candidate in 2011 and now is with ABC, having headed its MEP candidate list in May 2014, told local media that ABC was ready to talk to the BSP, but it had to be a BSP without Stanishev.

“We repeatedly have said that we are ready to talk about specific policies, but before we talk about a partnership, a few things must change,” said Kalfin, whose comments made clear that these “few things” seemed really to mean “Stanishev”.

Kalfin said that even though Stanishev was no longer BSP leader, he would remain the one to decide what was in the party’s programme and who would be the “Coalition for Bulgaria’s” MPs in the next Parliament.

Kalfin said that ABC had happened precisely because of the BSP leadership, in which Mihail Mikov had played an active part.

Meanwhile, back on the centre-right, Meglena Kouneva – leader of Bulgarian for Citizens, a constituent party of the Reformist Bloc, and who was the Reformists’ list leader in the European Parliament elections although preferential voting eliminated her from winning a seat – said on July 27 that the Reformist Bloc would stand alone in the election campaign.

An agreement with GERB would require good representation of the Reformist Bloc in the election lists and a clear commitment to specific reforms by the next cabinet.

On July 26, Borissov was reported to have said that he was ready to sign a pre-election agreement with the Reformist Bloc and regularly had held conversations with its leaders, including Radan Kanev, Kouneva and Korman Ismailov, but he had received mixed signals from them and they had tried to impose conditions on him.

Elsewhere in Bulgaria’s political spectrum, there has been a well-publicised divorce between former talk show host Nikolai Barekov’s Bulgaria Without Censorship (BWC) party and the ultra-nationalist VMRO.

BWC was the biggest spender in Bulgaria’s European Parliament elections and won two out of 17 seats. With recent developments in the country having suggested a decline in the political bankability of BWC, VMRO has flown the coop to make common cause with Valeri Simeonov’s National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NRSB).

Simeonov, speaking to Bulgarian National Radio on July 27, ruled out either a pre- or post-election coalition with Borissov.

The NFSB leader said that his party disapproved of GERB’s policies, and saw Borissov’s party as a “party of the status quo”, deeply culpable for the situation in which Bulgaria finds itself.

With Volen Siderov’s Ataka apparently headed for political oblivion in October – it won no seats in the European Parliament elections in May and was outdone by NFSB – Simeonov claimed that his party was picking up some defectors from Siderov’s party. People leaving Ataka were accepted into NFSB provided that they were neither “careerists nor people with mental health problems,” Simeonov said.



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.