In spite of signs of progress towards a possible coalition government that could muster sufficient support in Bulgaria’s new Parliament, GERB leader Boiko Borissov said on October 31 that he was not optimistic about forming a government because of the messages he was hearing from the Reformist Bloc.
Borissov, whose party holds the most seats in the National Assembly and who would be prime minister should coalition negotiations succeed, expressed misgivings about progress in the talks with the Reformist Bloc, which GERB’s current scenario sees as its coalition partner in a government supported by a few other minority parties.
GERB and Reformist Bloc negotiators were due to meet on the afternoon of October 31 to work through the programmes of the two to come up with a list of agreed “clear priorities”.
In turn, hopes were to have cabinet nominations ready by November 3.
GERB will be handed an offer of a mandate to govern by head of state President Rossen Plevneliev on November 6.
Borissov said that if there was no agreement with the Reformist Bloc by then, he would hand back the mandate, effectively precipitating another early election.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party, which ran a distant second in the October 5 elections, has repeated that it would not attempt to form a government if offered the chance. Currently, there is scant belief that a third party would succeed.
Borissov said that the previous day, he had called the Reformist Bloc’s parliamentary group co-leader Radan Kanev to seek clarity on a partnership on the Corporate Commercial Bank issue.
According to Borissov, Kanev told him, “Ms Kouneva (the bloc’s other parliamentary group co-leader) is not here, I will find her and then call you. And he did not call me”.
Borissov expressed frustration that every meeting with the Reformist Bloc ended with bloc representatives saying that they had to go back to consult.
“They go and consult and the next day they come back to a meeting, but no decision can be taken because they consult again.”
On October 30, the coalition set-up that was being envisaged was a GERB-Reformist Bloc coalition cabinet, supported by the Patriotic Front though that nationalist coalition would have no seats in government, and possibly also supported by socialist breakaway ABC, one of the two smallest parties in Parliament.
On October 31, President Plevneliev began the process of formal consultations with all parties, as required by the constitution to take place ahead of the first offer of a mandate to govern.
Plevneliev set out a schedule of meeting two parties daily for the four working days up to November 5, with GERB last.
First on the list for talks with Plevneliev was ABC.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, ABC parliamentary group leader Ivailo Kalfin said that the ABC was willing to support a GERB-Reformist Bloc government if an understanding was reached about the important topics.
While ABC was not a centre-right party, it would support a centre-right government on certain topics “on which we have views in common,” Kalfin said.
Asked whether ABC would sign a joint programme with GERB, the Reformist Bloc and the Patriotic Front, Kalfin said that such a programme would have to be studied first to examine stances on topics important to ABC.
Kalfin said that with GERB, ABC had similar views on electoral law, judicial reform, changes to the social system, unblocking of EU funds, but large differences on tax policy, some elements of social policy, and pension reform.
Meanwhile, in spite of Borissov’s stated lack of optimism, there have been more positive signals from within his party’s negotiating team.
GERB’s Tomislav Donchev, a former deputy prime minister who is now an MEP but is widely seen as likely headed for a powerful cabinet post in the event of a government being formed, said that in talks with the Reformist Bloc, five items on the programme remained to be sorted out and this would be done in a matter of days.
The outstanding issues to be resolved include whether to keep the armed forces at current numbers or reduce these, the question of changes to the municipal tax system, the proposed merger of the National Revenue Agency and the National Customs Agency, and steps to address the demographic crisis by encouraging three-child families.
Donchev said that the government formula being envisaged would lead to a minority government with broad parliamentary support.
On October 30, the BSP said that it would vote against a GERB-Reformist Bloc cabinet.
However, Parliament’s third-largest party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms has said that it would give a GERB-led government 300 days’ grace provided that cabinet upheld Euro-Atlantic values.
The votes of GERB, the MRF, the Reformist Bloc and the Patriotic Front in the National Assembly would be more than enough to consent to a government taking office, whatever lesser parties such as Bulgaria Without Censorship (which now calls itself the “Bulgarian Democratic Centre” parliamentary group) and Ataka decide to do.