Bulgaria’s unicameral Parliament, the National Assembly, holds its first sitting for 2016 on January 13, with turbulence in both opposition ranks and among the political forces that originally agreed on the deal that put Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right coalition government in place.
Borissov’s GERB party remains with 84 MPs out of 240, making it one of the few out of eight parties and coalitions elected in October 2014 to still have the same numbers in its parliamentary group.
The most dramatic change as the January 2016 session of Bulgaria’s Parliament gets underway is the departure of six MPs from the parliamentary group of the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), the third-largest party in the National Assembly.
In the October 2014 election, the MRF won 38 seats, putting it just one behind the 39 that the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party then had. Soon after the new Parliament started, the MRF expelled two MPs – Gyunai Hyusman and Musa Lalev – for declining the party’s demand that they give up the seats to which they were elected through preferential voting.
Now, the expulsion of Lyutvi Mestan as leader and as a member of the MRF has prompted five other MRF MPs – Aydoan Ali, Ventsislav Kaymakanov, Mariana Georgieva, Hyusein Hafazov and Shabanali Durmush – to leave the party’s parliamentary group along with him.
Mestan, whose downfall was ordered by MRF founder and honorary president Ahmed Dogan over Mestan’s backing for Ankara after Turkey downed a Russian air force bomber near Syrian air space, will move from the front bench to the wilderness of the seats at the rear allocated to “independent” MPs.
The move of the MRF six pushes up the number of non-aligned MPs from five to 11 – meaning that there now are as many “independent” MPs as there are members of the two smallest parliamentary groups, those of Georgi Purvanov’s socialist ABC and Volen Siderov’s pro-Russian Ataka party.
In Bulgaria’s current parliamentary system, however, independent MPs are hardly more than spectators most of the time. Customarily, independents are not granted memberships of portfolio committees, they may not join other parliamentary groups and each gets just five minutes’ speaking time – a huge cutback for the locquacious Mestan.
The MRF has expressed its frustration that the six have declined to resign as MPs, meaning that with substitution impossible, the party will spend the rest of the life of this Parliament -theoretically, until the second half of 2018 – with just 30 MPs, of its original 38 seats.
It is not regarded as likely that the former MRF MPs would be able to work with the other five “independents” to operate even as an informal group. The other five, apart from the two kicked out of the MRF group when Mestan was its leader, are Georgi Kadiev, expelled from the BSP for standing against that party’s official candidate in Sofia mayoral elections (both lost), Anna Barakova, who quit Nikolai Barekov’s populist Bulgaria Without Censorship party even before taking up her seat, and Velizar Enchev, who months ago quit the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition (a supporter in Parliament of the Borissov government) to embark on a stillborn project to establish a “Bulgarian Syriza”.
The largest opposition party, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which after Kadiev’s expulsion in 2015 has 38 MPs, will be seeking to draw attention to itself by trying to get support to table a motion of no confidence in Borissov’s Cabinet. The party was thrashed in the municipal and mayoral elections in 2015 and like all other parties, has yet to make its intentions clear regarding a candidacy in Bulgaria’s forthcoming October 2016 presidential elections.
With the governing coalition, the largest ongoing drama remains the Reformist Bloc, the fourth-largest parliamentary group with 23 MPs.
In late 2015, the Reformist Bloc was shaken by internal turbulence following the resignation as Justice Minister of the bloc’s Hristo Ivanov. Radan Kanev led his Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB), a bloc constituent member, into opposition, but the remaining bloc parties decided to continue supporting the government.
As Parliament headed for its first sitting, the process was underway of seeking agreement between Borissov’s GERB and the Reformist Bloc on updates to the coalition agreement, specifically on getting through amendments to the Judicial System Act, anti-corruption legislation and amendments to electoral law.
Of the Reformist Bloc’s 23 MPs, 10 will not be signing up to the deal – six from Kanev’s DSB and four from the “citizen’s quota” bloc MPs. The other 13, from Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kouneva’s Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, the Union of Democratic Forces and the remaining bloc constituent parties were backing the new deal with GERB.
Meanwhile, another continuing theme in the 2016 Parliament will be the melodramas surrounding Ataka leader Siderov and his fellow MP Dessislav Chukolov, variously facing charges of assault and hooliganism in connection with sundry incidents in regard to which the Prosecutor-General has requested, and received, permission from Parliament to proceed against them.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)