Media reports in Bulgaria claimed that at least five MPs were set to follow in the footsteps of former Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) leader Lyutfi Mestan and quit the party’s parliamentary group when the National Assembly resumes work after the winter holiday season.
Mestan was surprisingly stripped of his leadership positions and expelled from the party last week, mere days after a sharp verbal attack on Mestan by party founder and former long-time leader Ahmed Dogan was made public on the MRF’s official website. Dogan, in an address at a Christmas party, denounced as a “gaffe” Mestan’s declaration in the National Assembly following Turkey shooting down a Russian Air Force bomber near the Syrian border.
Speaking to Nova Televizia on December 24, Mestan stood by his statement on the House floor following the incident that has soured relations between Russia and Turkey, and said that he did not accept the political assessment that his declaration was a mistake, saying that it had “established the Euro-Atlantic orientation of the MRF”.
In recent days, some local observers interpreted the MRF leadership reshuffle as a repositioning of the party to align with Moscow in its current simmering conflict with Ankara, even though the party draws the bulk of its voters from Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish minority and Bulgarian immigrants in Turkey, many of whom left the country in the 1980s during communist-era purges known as the “revival process”, which was directed at forcing Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity to adopt Slavonic names.
One blogger, former TV host Ivo Indjev, went as far as to say that Moscow had “revealed its agents in the MRF” – a transparent reference at the fact that both Mestan and Dogan have been outed by Bulgaria’s Dossiers Commission as collaborators of the communist-era State Security, an organisation said to have had very close ties to the Soviet KGB – which may cost the party at the next parliamentary elections.
In the short term, the MRF is set to see its parliamentary group reduced to 30 MPs, which would still make it the third largest in the 43rd National Assembly by a comfortable margin. In addition to Mestan, the list of defectors is said to currently include Husein Hafuzov, Shabanali Ahmed, Aidoan Ali, Ventsislav Kaimakanov and Mariana Georgieva, who was sports minister in the Plamen Oresharski administration in 2013/2014.
The party also lost two MPs shortly after last year’s elections, who won seats amid confusion regarding preferential voting and were expelled after refusing to relinquish them.