Bulgaria’s coalition drama: Reformist Bloc leaders hold talks with Borissov

Leaders of Bulgaria’s centre-right minority Reformist Bloc coalition held unannounced talks with GERB chief Boiko Borissov and his deputies on the evening of October 21, a day after Borissov announced GERB wanted to hold second-round talks on government formation with four parties including the Reformist Bloc.

News of the meeting emerged after a local media reporter saw the Reformist Bloc group arriving at GERB’s headquarters in Sofia.

Five leaders of Reformist Bloc constituent parties attended the meeting: Radan Kanev, Meglena Kouneva, Bozhidar Lukarski, Nikolai Nenchev and Korman Ismailov.

The meeting lasted two hours. On departing, the Reformist Bloc group was met by waiting reporters, and was accompanied by a member of the GERB team that conducted first-round talks, Roumyana Buchvarova.

The October 21 talks came against a background of the previous week’s meeting at which GERB and Reformist Bloc negotiators met for about six hours in a session that ended inconclusively.

Kanev indicated to reporters that the Reformist Bloc was positively disposed towards the participation of the Patriotic Front – a nationalist coalition – in a future coalition government, accepted the possibility that Georgi Purvanov’s socialist breakaway ABC could support individual policies, while the bloc was strongly opposed to the inclusion of the Bulgarian Socialist Party in the deal.

Buchvarova told reporters, “we are already one step ahead towards a signing of a coalition agreement”.

Asked whether they had considered the option of a minority government made up of a GERB and the Reformist Bloc, Kanev said that this was not the best option for Bulgaria.

The option of a tripartite coalition of GERB, the Reformist Bloc and the Patriotic Front had been discussed.

As reported by Bulgarian-language website Mediapool, the impromptu briefing to reporters in front of GERB headquarters did not give clear answers to the questions of what were the core commitments of the two political forces and what compromises were possible.

Reporters asked what had happened to GERB’s promise that negotiations would be conducted formally at the National Assembly building and that reporters would be kept in the loop.

Buchvarova said, “this meeting was held in short order after the decision by GERB’s supreme body that the four political forces (the Reformist Bloc, BSP, Patriotic Front and ABC) should be consulted”.

She said that the representatives of the Reformist Bloc had been invited, “because we have the least differences with them. We held talks to clarify our position on matters which so far had not been entirely clear.”

Buchvarova said that it was “not about signing a coalition agreement but at this point about clarifying positions”.

She added that in similar rapid format, meetings would be held with other political parties to seek clarification on political positions.

The earlier meeting, the first-round talks on October 15, ended with GERB expressing frustration at failing to understand the complex inner workings of the Reformist Bloc as well as frustrations with the demands made public ahead of the meeting by the bloc demanding an end to Bulgaria’s political media bringing together business, political and media interests – commonly termed the “Peevski model” or the “Who? Model”.

Kanev said that the October 21 meeting had not been a negotiation but a political conversation.

Buchvarova said that the meeting with the Reformist Bloc had not been secret and said that the media would be kept informed of second-round talks meetings.

The Reformist Bloc’s parliamentary group is to meet on October 22 to decide on matters related to the management of the group and its rules of procedure.

Earlier, Dimitar Tanev, deputy leader of Kouneva’s party Bulgaria for Citizens, said that there were contradictions between the Reformist Bloc programme and those of the left that could not be reconciled.

Speaking to Bulgarian National Radio, he said that there were fundamental conflicts between the programmes of the Reformist Bloc and the BSP, for example on taxation systems and the GERB-mothballed Belene nuclear power station project.

On October 21, in a post on his personal Facebook page, Kanev said: “I am writing just to confim I’m alive, but too busy to use social networks”.

Kanev, who has been among the most adamant in the bloc about refusing to countenance a coalition government in which Borissov is prime minister, expressed thanks for those who had supported him in this difficult time.

“The stakes are really big, starting the changes that have been delayed for more than 30 years,” Kanev said.

“Reform of the system (justice and public administration), stopped investment and economic development for more than a decade. The resistance will also be large, there will be many new enemies…” he said.

On October 20, a report by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio said that the Reformist Bloc was “optimistic” about second-round talks with GERB.

The report quoted Kouneva as saying that for the bloc, the leading priority in the second-round talks would be justice.

Reformist Bloc leaders met at the Sofia headquarters of the Union of Democratic Forces on October 20, telling reporters afterwards that the bloc – the subject of numerous reports about its infighting over possible relations with GERB – was “completely united”.

At the meeting, the bloc did not elect a leader of its parliamentary group.

Related stories:

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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.