Bulgaria’s proposed new Borissov coalition cabinet: 10 things to know

Boiko Borissov, expected to be elected Bulgaria’s prime minister on May 4 2017, has announced the members of his third government, a coalition between his GERB party and the nationalist United Patriots. Here are 10 things worth knowing about the coming cabinet.

1. This is the first time that a nationalist political force has a seat – in fact, four of them – at the Cabinet table in Bulgaria’s democratic history. At that, through their two deputy prime ministers, the United Patriots have oversight over internal security and public order, and economic and demographic policy.

2. Gender balance: Borissov, in spite of his repeated statements over the years about a preference for appointing women to positions of power, has never been very good at it. His first cabinet, in office from 2009 to 2013, had four women cabinet ministers out of a total of 17 (even allowing for cabinet changes that pushed the number up and down slightly over the years in power, the net result was the same). His second cabinet – which began with three parties sharing out the seats at the table – had eight women out of 19 ministers. This time around, there is one woman deputy prime minister, making a total of five out of 21.

3. State Security: Through the participation of the United Patriots, Bulgaria now will have a deputy prime minister who used to work for Bulgaria’s communist-era secret service: Krassimir Karakachanov, code-name Agent Ivan. Borissov also had a State Security person in his first cabinet, Bozhidar Dimitrov – who resigned after a political controversy about his affiliation.

4. A few of the ministers in the third cabinet are scoring a hat-trick, joining Borissov in the cabinet meeting room for the third time: GERB’s Tomislav Donchev (deputy PM in charge of EU funds) and Ivailo Moskovski (transport). Neither, however, was initially a member of the first Borissov cabinet, arriving later through recruitment or promotion to fill a vacant seat. Lilyana Pavlova is also a third-time Borissov cabinet minister, though now in a portfolio – Bulgaria’s EU presidency – different from the regional development job she held in the first two Borissov administrations.

4 and a half: Those returning from the second cabinet in their same portfolios include Vladislav Goranov (finance), Temenuzhka Petkova (energy), Nikolina Angelkova (tourism), and Krassen Kralev (sport).

5. With the announcement of the cabinet now official and a thankful end to “well-informed” media speculation, it emerges that the United Patriots did not get everything they wanted, specifically, they were not given the Energy Ministry. They do have the Economy Ministry, but it is of lesser significance. There were years that Bulgaria had a mega-ministry of economy, energy and tourism, eventually – for reasons of experience and political expedience – broken into three ministries.

6. The fact that Vezhdi Rashidov did not return as Minister of Culture means that it appears that there is no Bulgarian of Turkish ethnicity in this cabinet. This is worth knowing because Borissov reportedly believes the presence of someone of that ethnicity in a cabinet of his is, at least symbolically, important. Rashidov had been pencilled in various versions of the cabinet list, but at the last minute, it became clear that for health reasons, he did not want to return to the executive.

7. Apart from those returning previous Borissov ministers, there are two who are notching up quite the CVs of serving in government: Ekaterina Zaharieva (foreign affairs) and Nikolina Angelkova (tourism). Both also previously have served not only in the second Borissov governments, but also in at least one of the caretaker governments of recent years, albeit in different portfolios.

8. Borissov, as Prime Minister, again faces a situation where the President is not from his party. When Borissov first headed the government, in 2009, the head of state at the time was Georgi Purvanov, former leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party. At the time of the second Borissov government, the President was Rossen Plevneliev, formerly one of Borissov’s cabinet ministers and who was elected head of state on a GERB ticket. Now Borissov faces Roumen Radev, who won in November 2016 on a ticket backed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party – a victory that prompted Borissov’s resignation, thus leading up to the events of today.

9. Among those notably not in the cabinet (but were never really expected to be) are some of the most senior figures from the coalition partners: Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who was deputy prime minister and interior minister in the first government and is a deputy leader of GERB; and Volen Siderov, one of the three co-leaders of the United Patriots and leader of his Ataka party. The controversies around both over the years likely played a role in keeping them out of the executive.

10. Seasoned political observers will be watching the fate of Lilyana Pavlova, handed the portfolio of Bulgaria’s EU presidency in the first half of 2018, instead of returning to the regional development portfolio. Hostile reports in the Bulgarian media suggested that Pavlova had been moved out of the latter portfolio because of controversies over the Maritsa Motorway construction project (but then, in their cabinet speculation, some of the same media said that she would not be returning to the cabinet at all). Technically, once it has relinquished the rotating presidency of the EU, Bulgaria will still participate in a troika with the country succeeding it in that role, but in time even that will be over. So what will eventually become of Pavlova, long one of the most popular ministers in the previous two governments and who, in the very last days of the first, came within a whisker of promotion to deputy prime minister?




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.