Bulgaria’s GERB begins formal negotiations on coalition government

A week and a day after Bulgaria’s October 5 early parliamentary elections, and after days of foot-stamping and posturing, formal negotiations are to begin on the formation of a new government.

The negotiations will be led by a team from Boiko Borissov’s GERB, winner of the most seats in the new eight-party parliament, although it won too few to govern alone or in a two-party coalition with the bloc seen as most politically compatible with it.

Borissov, who will not take part directly in the first round of negotiations, delegating this to a team of three senior GERB members, says that he is aiming for a coalition government bound by clear rules and where parties supporting the government have cabinet seats.

He has ruled out participation in the government by the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the two erstwhile partners (with tactic support from a third, ultra-nationalists Ataka) in the ruling axis that was in power from May 2013 to August 2014.

In spite of this stated exclusion of the BSP and MRF, they will be the first two parties that the GERB negotiating team will meet, as Borissov’s party has decided to hold talks with all seven of the other parties in the 43rd National Assembly.

The formal talks, beginning with the meeting with a BSP team on October 13 at 10am on the “neutral ground” of a room in the parliament building, are to continue with meetings with each party daily, in descending order according to their election results.

The first formal round, should all go according to plan, will be followed by a second round of deal-making in which Borissov will take part personally.

While this week of horse-trading is going on, reports are that President Rossen Plevneliev will sit down with representatives of the parties to discuss when the convene the first sitting of the new National Assembly. This is expected to be on the penultimate or last Wednesday in October.

While the BSP is set to go into opposition, there is some division in the deeply troubled party about how to approach the negotiations and the question of the vote on the new government – assuming that the GERB-led negotiations produce a cabinet to propose to Parliament.

Already reeling from its latest electoral defeat, the most thorough so far, the BSP is reported to be set to hold a special congress – probably at the end of October or early November – to discuss the way forward for the party.

The MRF’s leader Lyutvi Mestan has spoken of a need for a cabinet based on national consensus and Euro-Atlantic values, but his party largely has seen all others turn their back on it. Mestan was scheduled to give an update at an October 13 news conference on his party’s policy position and response to the statements of others.

While it is unclear whether anything could come of the formal talks between GERB and, respectively, the BSP and MRF (unless the MRF ultimately will tacitly support a new GERB-led cabinet without participating in it), the meeting that is likely to be closely watched will be the third, as the GERB team engages with representatives of the Reformist Bloc.

Seized by internal divisions on the issue of co-operation with GERB and in particular on the issue of Borissov’s stated aim to return to his 2009/13 role as prime minister, the bloc has come up with a policy position for negotiations.

This is predicated on the notion of principles and tasks being established first, and cabinet allocations and the people to occupy them later. There was a melodrama over the weekend when Radan Kanev, leader of a bloc party strongly opposed to Borissov reprising his role as PM, was reported to have described this insistence as a wrong opening move, with Kanev in turn responding to media reports about this remark by saying that it had been misconstrued.

Next in line will be the Patriotic Front, which for all its ultra-nationalism – the front exists largely as a consequence of its co-leader Valeri Simeonov’s estrangement from Ataka leader Volen Siderov – is seen in some quarters as the most probable third pillar of the next coalition government.

Even were no other parties to accede to whatever deal GERB works out, a GERB-Reformist Bloc-Patriotic Front coalition would have 126 seats out of 240, enough to form a government, whatever future it may have under the internal stresses and strains, not only among the respective parties and coalitions but also within them.

The Patriotic Front’s negotiating position, however, hardly sits comfortably with those of GERB or the Reformist Bloc, with its call for a “programme” government of national salvation, made up of experts who are non-political figures, nominated by the parties represented in Parliament.

Right from the outset, that sounds politically improbable, in part because talk about “programme” governments made up of so-called “experts” has scant, if any, credibility after the debacle of the 2013/14 cabinet.

The Patriotic Front, apart from being – hardly surprisingly, from its own point of view – keen on the exclusion of the MRF from power, also wants economic revival, promotion of Bulgarian goods and a boost to Bulgarians’ income, tax, accounting and licensing conditions and a fund to support SMEs and a law against speculation (by which is meant the financial kind, not the armchair chatter variety).

The Patriotic Front’s shopping list also includes an audit of the energy sector under the auspices of a parliamentary ad hoc committee, investigations into corporate and other economic crimes, and urgent rehabilitation of Corporate Commercial Bank along with an investigation into the causes and people behind Corpbank’s troubles.

Nikolai Barekov’s populist Bulgaria Without Censorship (BWC) appears to have largely – and rapidly – abandoned its iconoclastic approach to Borissov, saying that it wants to see a government formed as quickly as possible, right at the initial step of a mandate to form a government being handed to Borissov as leader of the party that won the most votes. Barekov, who months ago spoke of himself as the next prime minister, is to retain the MEP seat he won in November and will not take up a seat in the National Assembly.

The penultimate and last parties that the GERB negotiators will meet will be Siderov’s Ataka and Georgi Purvanov’s BSP breakaway ABC. Ataka and ABC each will have 11 seats in the next National Assembly, but Ataka got a fractionally higher percentage of votes.

Ataka is widely seen as likely to be in opposition and reportedly has been talking about the need for new elections.

ABC leader Purvanov, citing “significant differences” said that his party would not participate in a GERB government, but could work with it on common national priorities. Notwithstandin GERB’s intention to meet all parties for talks, Purvanov said on October 10 that his party was not participating and would not participate in talks on the composition of the cabinet.

All of this talk about talks is taking place against the background of the overture to the constitutional processes now enabled by the Central Election Commission having announced the final results, allocation of seats and names of elected MPs.

After consultations with parliamentary groups, the President appoints a Prime Minister-designate nominated by the party that has won the highest number of seats in the National Assembly.

Should the Prime Minister-designate fail to form a government within seven days, the mandate is passed to the person designated by the second-largest parliamentary group.

Should the second attempt at forming a government fail, the mandate goes to a minority parliamentary group of the President’s choice.

Should consultations on forming a government prove successful, the President asks the National Assembly to vote to elect the Prime Minister-designate.

If no agreement on forming a government is reached, the President appoints a caretaker government, dissolves the National Assembly and schedules new elections on a date two months hence.



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.