Boiko Borissov’s GERB party could support a government formed on the basis of the mandate held by the Reformist Bloc, possibly with a bloc figure as Prime Minister, while Borissov is refusing to head a new government based on a mandate held by another party.
At the same time, there is skepticism among some senior GERB figures that a government will be formed on the basis of the current Parliament.
Rounds of talks have been held among the political parties possibly to be involved in a deal on a new government. The talks have focused mainly on individual parliamentary groups’ demands and policy issues and less on the personnel who may be included in a new Cabinet.
By December 18, ahead of formal talks between the Reformist Bloc and GERB, no specific outcome of the current phase of Bulgaria’s political crisis was guaranteed – in spite of all the talk, between the parties and by politicians in media interviews.
In short, it remained unclear what government would be in place in Bulgaria by Christmas.
In a December 18 television interview, GERB parliamentary group leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that the best efforts were being made to clear away policy differences among GERB, the Reformist Bloc and the Patriotic Front, in order to consolidate around a government that would continue the policies of the past two years.
Tsvetanov said that GERB would support a government formed with the mandate handed to the Reformist Bloc by President Rossen Plevneliev on December 14.
The names of the Prime Minister and Cabinet members would be decided in “conversations” now being conducted, he said.
Tsvetanov said that there was “extremely constructive” dialogue with the Patriotic Front, the nationalist coalition parliamentary group co-led by Valeri Simeonov and Krassimir Karachanov, which currently is operating in alliance with Volen Siderov’s Ataka party under the “United Patriots” banner.
“I can tell you that, just as with Valeri Simeonov, as with Krassimir Karakachanov, and with Volen Siderov, who is part of the United Patriots – I can assure you that every one defends his priorities underlined in his governance programme. But we have to come up with a policy that can unite us all, and to know that that we are fulfilling the commitments of absoutely everyone and striving to satisfy the whims of everyone.”
Borissov, speaking on December 17, said that GERB would form a government only the basis of a mandate that his party itself held, not on the basis of one held by another party.
He said that it was normal for a party leader to take office as Prime Minister as a sign of political responsibility. On this principle, Meglena Kouneva or Bozhidar Lukarski could be Prime Minister, he said.
“The only thing that we have said is that in case a government is formed with the mandate of the Reformist Bloc and supported by the Patriotic Front, we are obliged to support them. This means that the Prime Minister should come from their ranks, the Cabinet ministers should come from their ranks, and responsibility too should be theirs,” Borissov said.
Tomislav Donchev, a senior GERB member and one of Borissov’s deputy prime ministers, said on December 18 that the party could not participate in a goverment “with principals, ministers, still less a Prime Minister, that has a different mandate”.
“This is a matter of self-respect,” Donchev said.
However, he did not rule out partial support of a government formed with the mandate held by the Reformist Bloc for several months, so that the National Assembly could approve amendments to electoral legislation in a calm way.
Responding to Borissov’s view that the sole reason for continuing the life of the current Parliament would be to amend election laws, Donchev said that another legitimate reason was political will, the appropriateness of the National Assembly complying with the outcome of the November 2016 national referendum.
Donchev said that the signal from the presidential elections was that what GERB had done was inadequate and it had to once again seek the support of the electorate, perhaps with some reforms at party level and in policies.
No one in the party wanted to stubbornly hang on to power, he said.
“Everything done in recent years, all the things that have been a trademark of GERB, have been well received by the people. But the public is fully entitled to say: ‘The fact that you are investing in infrastructure is great, but this is one of the routine commitments of the state. We want more’.”
On Saturday, Bozhidar Lukarski, leader of the UDF – a constituent party of the Reformist Bloc and the one that has been the keenest on forming a new elected government without the country going to early parliamentary elections – said that the UDF had set a deadline of December 23 for a new government based on the Reformist Bloc’s mandate to be voted into office.
Lukarski’s idea was to return the current Cabinet to office, an idea that subsequently – in what was hardly a surprise development – was rejected by Borissov.
The UDF leader denied that there had been talks about Patriotic Front members becoming Cabinet ministers.
In the November 2014 deal on the Borissov government, the Patriotic Front agreed to support the coalition government in Parliament, without having Cabinet seats.
In recent days, there has been speculation in the media that the Reformist Bloc’s Nikolai Nenchev, currently Defence Minister, could lose his Cabinet seat to the PF’s Karakachanov.
Lukarski said that he did not see why Nenchev should be replaced.
He said that the conditions that the Patriotic Front had put forward for supporting a new government were surmountable. Even the requirement to increase the minimum pension was achievable, Lukarski said, although earlier GERB categorically rejected this because it would put the budget at risk.
Vladislav Goranov, Finance Minister in the current Cabinet, said on December 17 that there would no new Cabinet in this Parliament with Borissov as Prime Minister. He himself would not be in a new Cabinet, Goranov said. He added that without Borissov, he did not see a new government in this Parliament and thus the chances of there being one were tending to zero.
Yordanka Fandukova, Sofia mayor and a deputy leader of GERB, also said that she was skeptical about the possibilities of a new government being formed.
She was not participating in the negotiations, “but I’m skeptical about a possible outcome from them,” Fandukova said in a radio interview on Saturday. At the same time, she did not rule out a scenario whereby GERB supported a Reformist Bloc Cabinet without having seats in it.
Borissov also has called for Parliament not to go into recess as scheduled on December 23, to work on electoral reform legislation.
On December 17, Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev called on the country’s political parties to come up with a pro-European government that would complete preparations for Bulgaria’s holding of the rotating presidency of the European Union in 2018.
Plevneliev said that Bulgaria’s EU presidency could be at risk of failure if the country was plunged into long-lasting instability.
“I am concerned that rushed elections will lead to further instability and a more fragmented legislature, which will be unable to work. For us, the Presidency is key, and two-thirds of it involve the preparations, which should conclude by June 2017,” Plevneliev said.
He said that Bulgaria was faced with the choice whether to continue its political squabbles or carry out a EU presidency which will have a leading role in Brexit negotiations, the agreement of the new budget framework for EU funds beyond 2020 and a role in implementing the EU agenda in the Balkans and the inception of the European Energy Union.
On December 17, Roumen Radev, who takes office as Bulgaria’s President on January 22 2017, said that he was “almost ready” with a caretaker government.
Kornelia Ninova, leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party – which after GERB was the second party to turn down a mandate to attempt to form a government – criticised the current attempts to form a government. Referring to the current ruling majority parties involved in the talks, Ninova said: “People drive them out of the door, they want to come back in through the window”.
Ninova said that any new government involving Borissov, the Reformist Bloc and the Patriotic Front was doomed before it started and would not have a long lifespan.