Bulgaria elections 2017: Daily roundup, March 21

With five days to go to Bulgaria’s March 2017 parliamentary elections, Turkey and the two Bulgarian political parties with close ties to electorates in that country continued to be the top talking points.

The nationalist United Patriots coalition, which could hardly have hoped for a better gift to mobilise its voters than the tensions with Ankara and the controversy around Lyutvi Mestan’s DOST party, held border-blockade protests at frontier checkpoints with Turkey.

Complete with tyre barricades, mummers to see off evil spirits, and coloured smoke flares, the nationalists pledged to prevent “electoral tourism”, the bussing-in of supporters of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and of DOST from across the Turkish border.

The United Patriots’ protest at the Bulgarian – Turkish border, March 21.

GERB leader Boiko Borissov, in an interview with AFP, repeated his pledge to not form a coalition government including the MRF or DOST.

He predicted worsening escalation of bad relations between the EU and Turkey and said that everyone would lose from it, and described Ankara’s intervention in Bulgaria’s elections as unacceptable.

GERB leader Boiko Borissov.

Borissov also poured scorn on the promise by Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Kornelia Ninova to poll BSP supporters after the March 26 elections about with which parties to form a government. He asked just how the party faithful would be consulted, and who would count the result.

BSP leader Ninova described the situation with Turkey as dangerous and requiring an unequivocal position on the part of Bulgaria.

Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Kornelia Ninova, second right, on the campaign trail in the March 2017 elections.

Ninova too described the tone between the EU and Turkey as worsened, also adding that her party rejected the intervention of a foreign state in Bulgaria’s internal affairs.

New Republic coalition leader Radan Kanev described the clash between the BSP and GERB as “completely false”.

In a March 21 television interview, Kanev said: “The clash between the BSP and GERB, like that between the MRF and DOST, is completely false. There is no such confrontation”.

Kanev said that the “baseball bat of the 1990s has been replaced with a judge’s gavel and the tracksuit with a prosecutor’s toga. Power has become the weapon of the strong, one more weapon to exert pressure and rob”.

Bulgaria needed judicial reform on the lines of the Romanian model, but GERB, the BSP and even the Reformist Bloc opposed this, he said.

Kanev’s Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria was part of the Reformist Bloc parliamentary group, and he was in the early months of the previous parliament the group’s spokesperson. He resigned from that post, and later led his party into opposition when Hristo Ivanov, then a Reformist Bloc member, resigned as justice minister over inadequate judicial reform.

“It is natural that some people are confused. Because I do not see a real clash between the BSP and GERB. If there is a problem, it is a complete lack of difference between BSP and GERB and the looming coalition between them,” Kanev said.

On March 20, Yes Bulgaria leader Hristo Ivanov said that “whoever becomes prime minister of the two anti-democratic leaders of GERB and the BSP, Peevski will call the tune”.

The former justice minister was referring to Delyan Peevski, the media mogul and MRF candidate whose June 2013 short-lived appointment as head of the State Agency for National Security was the catalyst for months of protests demanding the resignation of the “Oresharski” administration.

Ivanov said that the Peevski media always served the Prosecutor-General.

“Now the mafia was trying to say that I’m mafia,” Ivanov said.

Yes Bulgaria leader Hristo Ivanov.

He said that the so-called systemic parties – BSP, GERB and the MRF – were part of systemic corruption and were vulnerable to prosecution.

Ivanov said that the prosecution and the Supreme Judicial Council were the main reasons for the state of the judiciary. “The root of the problem is the prosecutor’s office and the Supreme Judicial Council, whose majority is under the control of the Prosecutor-General,” the former justice minister said.

Yes Bulgaria wanted to introduce the practice of the Prosecutor-General answering questions about investigations that had been announced in bombastic fashion but about which nothing was ever heard again.

Ivanov, who was justice minister in the August 2014 Bliznashki caretaker cabinet before going on to retain the portfolio in the second Borissov government in November 2014 said that Borissov had chosen him as a minister to show someone who would look convincing in Brussels.

“He used me as a figleaf but quickly realised that I was awkward. I was not a minister of Borissov, but of judicial reform, and when my work finished, I handed in my resignation,” Ivanov said.

Dimitar Delchev of the Reformist Bloc-Glas Naroden coalition said that the coalition would be the representative of the right-wing voters in the next parliament and would not allow the BSP to attempt to reverse the course of the country and orientate it towards the east.

Dimitar Delchev of the Reformist Bloc.

Delchev said that after BSP leader Ninova had said that democracy had taken much away in Bulgaria, the next step was to want totalitarianism and to put the country into reverse, to take it back 30 years. “We will not allow this,” Delchev said.

The Reformist Bloc-Glas Naroden’s Naiden Zelenogorski said that he hoped the coalition could have between 15 and 20 seats in the next parliament. (Bulgaria’s National Assembly has 240 members).

Zelenogorski said that the Reformist Bloc had “expanded” its coalition in order to give representation to right-wing people in the legislature. There was no question of not winning seats, he said: “We will be in parliament, and with a large group”.

In the 44th National Assembly, the coalition would continue its efforts towards the adoption of an anti-corruption law, economic growth and stability, and continuation of judicial reform, Zelenogorski said.

Mestan’s DOST issued a declaration on March 21 responding to the meeting held the previous day by President Roumen Radev with heads of intelligence and security services, the caretaker Interior Minister and the Prosecutor-General.

The meeting reportedly discussed the situation with Turkey, although a one-sentence statement by the President’s office said only that it had discussed preparations for the March 26 elections and national security.

DOST leader Lyutvi Mestan, at the microphone, addresses an election meeting in a Bulgarian village.

DOST said that the “result” of the President’s meeting was a “violation of the constitutional rights of Bulgarian citizens” to enter their country – an apparent reference to the issue of voters being bussed in to Bulgaria from Turkey to vote, and calls to stop this.

Apparently referring to the United Patriots’ blockades at the Turkish border points, DOST said that “What we see on the Bulgarian-Turkish border at Kapitan Andreevo is a manifestation of brutal fascism with the tacit consent of the relevant state authorities”.

DOST would sue anyone that called it a pro-Turkish party, the declaration said.

Mestan’s party called on all state institutions responsible for ensuring fair and transparent elections, “rather than patronise fascist excesses, to take decisive action to ensure the constitutional rights of Bulgarian citizens”.

“Only then Bulgaria will preserve its image as a democratic state – a member of the EU and Nato, worthy to preside over the EU Council,” DOST said.

On March 21, there was some trouble for Vesselin Mareshki, leader of the Volya party.

The Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office said that, acting on a request from the Central Election Commission, it was investigating the registrations of Volya and of the National Movement for Freedom and Democracy.

Earlier, media reports alleged that Mareshki was the leader of both parties. If this is true, it would be a breach of Bulgarian law on political parties.

Volya leader Vesselin Mareshki.

The Political Parties Act bars anyone who is already a member of a political party from being involved in the formal founding of another party.

The Prosecutor’s Office said that according to the report sent to it, Mareshki was listed as the president of Volya, as of 2007, and in the same post of the National Movement for Freedom and Democracy, as of 2004.

The prosecutor’s statement said that the Sofia City Prosecutor’s office had opened a dossier on the materials it had received and had ordered a check of the case files on the registration of both parties and the certificates of good standing of the parties.




Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.