Bulgaria’s 44th National Assembly, elected on March 26, held its first sitting on April 19, electing a Speaker and with the leaders of the five parliamentary groups setting out their views on the immediate political future.
Among the next major milestones for Bulgaria’s Parliament, following its first sitting, will be the voting into office of a coalition government to be headed by Boiko Borissov, leader of GERB, the largest party in the National Assembly.
Head of state President Roumen Radev, among those witnessing the opening session of the legislature, said that next week he would hand over a mandate to form a government, and expected the cabinet would be in office in early May.
Speaking to reporters, Borissov said: “We have gone through a period of instability, but we have been the opposite of what happened in Turkey. You see how there they are fighting for power.”
Referring to the events of a few months ago, following his resignation because his party was defeated in presidential elections by socialist-backed Radev, Borissov said that the then-opposition parties had the chance to form a government but had been “fearful”.
“We have a situation in the world that, at very least, is worrying. We have to be a clever nation, we should consolidate, stability in the Balkans depends on Bulgaria. If we are genuine politicians, and not just in words, we can do much good for Bulgaria in this situation – because Europe is scared of Turkey, and we are on the border,” Borissov said.
According to the GERB leader, the opposition had “gone into hiding” and left Radev and the caretaker government to “squirm”.
Addressing the House, GERB parliamentary group leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that “Bulgarian voters arranged us so that no one can govern alone”. His party had set its cap at a government that would serve a full four-year term, he said.
“We do not want to conduct spectacular policies charged with populism,” Tsvetanov said. “We will negotiate a centre-right policy, and it will be good to leave the vicious practice of political racketeering in the past.”
GERB would insist on transparency, he said. “We want to be clear that for us, governing is not an end in itself.”
Kornelia Ninova, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party parliamentary group – the second-largest, with 80 seats – called for the work of Parliament to be guided by the interests of the people. She reiterated that in the 44th National Assembly, her party would be in opposition.
Close to a million Bulgarians believed that the BSP was the bearer of change, Ninova said, a reference to the number of votes for her party in March.
“We accept responsibility for the future of the country, for the lives of our compatriots, at a time when complex geopolitical processes are underway,” Ninova said.
She said that a successful Bulgarian presidency of the EU (due in the first half of 2018) would be a joint political project. “We want a united, strong Europe, one of solidarity. We have to take the EU through the difficulties ahead.”
Valeri Simeonov, co-leader of the nationalist United Patriots – which has 27 MPs and will be Borissov’s partner in the coming coalition government – said that the highest goal would be the defence of the national interest.
Simeonov said that the United Patriots would work to eliminate from power the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and of DOST, two parties that he described as dividing Bulgarian citizens along ethnic and religious lines.
He said that the situation in the world was tense. In Turkey, the situation was alarming, the political situations in Romania and Macedonia were unstable, and there were rising tensions between the United States and Russia. “Therefore we cannot allow our country to be drawn into scenarios of acute confrontation, we need stable governance and government,” Simeonov said.
Bulgaria should make use of the opportunities of the forthcoming presidency of the EU.
Simeonov said that the United Patriots’ priorities in this Parliament would be cutting back licensing and registration systems, passing legislation against monopolies and cartels, termination of the long-term contracts with US power plants Maritsa Iztok 1 and 3, and extending the life of the fifth and sixth units of Kozloduy nuclear power station.
In the social sphere, the focus would be on linking social assistance with attendance at kindergarten and school of children of poor parents, a minimum pension of 200 leva by the end of the year and indexing others, clamping down on disability pensions drawn fraudulently and using the money saved, and generally, sustainable income growth.
MRF leader Mustafa Karadaya, whose party is the fourth-largest parliamentary group with 26 seats, called on MPs to recognise the power of unity, to rise above party and “to return normality to politics and the running of the state”.
In a reference to the United Patriots being set to be part of the government, Karadaya said: “We cannot and will not support the presence of extreme nationalism in the government, because that leads us away from modern parliamentarism and democracy, diverges from the Euro-Atlantic course of the country, of unifying patriotism.”
Vesselin Mareshki, leader of Volya – the smallest group, with 12 MPs – called for more morality, integrity in politics, and the restoration of the dignity and prestige of the Bulgarian National Assembly.
After the opening statements by group leaders, GERB nominee Dimitar Glavchev was elected Speaker. There were 157 votes in favour and 81 abstentions. No one voted against.
Each of the five parliamentary groups is entitled to name a Deputy Speaker. In the 44th National Assembly, they are Tsveta Karayancheva (GERB), Valeri Zhablyanov (BSP), Yavor Notev (United Patriots), Nigyar Dzhafer (MRF) and Vesselin Mareshki (Volya). The line-up was backed by the unanimous vote of all the MPs present at the time, 235.