Bulgaria faces early election poser
With a Bulgarian minority party set to formally withdraw its support from the Cabinet, and already having withdrawn its representatives from government, the country is back to speculating about whether there will be early parliamentary elections.
The majority partner in government, GERB, insisted amid the political drama on May 11 that there will not, as did one of its minority partners, the Reformist Bloc.
Much may lie in the outcome of talks within the ruling coalition on the future of election law amendments vetoed a few days earlier by President Rossen Plevneliev. The other minority partner in the governing coalition, the nationalist Patriotic Front, repeatedly has insisted that the National Assembly should use its power to override this veto. GERB and the Reformist Bloc have signalled no willingness to do so, creating a potential standoff that could see the PF carry out its threat to withdraw its support for the government.
That would leave Prime Minister Boiko Borissov with a number of options, including trying to carry on with a minority government and a floating majority for legislation in Parliament through individual deals, or bringing in another minority, such as political orphan the Bulgarian Democratic Centre, into some sort of arrangement – even though their numbers would hardly create a majority either.
A further option would be to string matters out so that Parliament could be dissolved in a timeframe appropriate to holding fresh parliamentary elections at the same time as scheduled presidential elections in the autumn. These elections would then be a three-in-one vote, given that it is expected that the country is to be called to a referendum on multiple questions of political reform on the same day as the presidential election.
By the afternoon of May 11, in the first 24 hours since minority socialist breakaway party ABC announced that its national council was recommending that the party agree to quitting the government, nothing had been heard to indicate progress was being made in the talks on the election law involving GERB, the Reformist Bloc and the Patriotic Front.
Questioned by reporters, President Plevneliev said that he was ready to do his constitutional day to form a caretaker cabinet, if called on to do so – that would happen if the government resigned and no party handed a mandate to govern could form a viable cabinet – but he added that he would prefer if this did not happen.
If it did, it would be third time since taking office as head of state in January 2012 that Plevneliev has had to form a caretaker cabinet, amid the political turbulence of 2013 and 2014.
Coincidentally, the National Assembly resumed business on May 11, after its Orthodox Easter recess.
GERB parliamentary floor leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov told the House that the only election for which his party was preparing was the presidential one.
GERB had no intention of calling early parliamentary elections, Tsvetanov said, underlining that the government intended serving out its full term of office, and the party intended going ahead with he described as its priorities – judicial reform, combating corruption and solving the problems of ordinary people.
Some observers and commentators already have seen a connection between the ABC move, which reportedly surprised other coalition government partners, and the May 8 election of a new leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party – from which ABC is a splinter.
The ABC’s Ivailo Kalfin, whose resignation as deputy prime minister was accepted by Prime Minister Borissov on May 10, told reporters that he would be happy if the BSP and ABC jointly nominated a presidential candidate. Kalfin, who ran in the 2011 elections on a BSP ticket, did not mention his own name as that joint candidate.
Meanwhile, Volen Siderov, leader of the pro-Russian Ataka opposition minority party – with ABC, one of the two smallest in the National Assembly – who in recent months has been in the headlines more for his court appearances for hooliganism and assault convictions than for his appearances in Parliament, made a rare visit to the House on May 11.
Ladling on the irony, he called on everyone to work for the stability of the government, telling other parties that if there were early elections, many of them would not return to Parliament.
Siderov called on everyone to remember, as he alleged, to put this government in place “how much money was thrown for supporters, protesters, all sorts of young, early risers, beautiful, intelligent young people with paving stones in their hands. And to turn our backs on all of this and toss it to the wind, that way we will fall into instability”. Early elections would be pointless, he said, because GERB would win again.