Political repercussions as GERB’s Glavchev resigns as Bulgarian National Assembly Speaker

Bulgarian Prime Minister and centre-right GERB party leader Boiko Borissov might have expected a hat-trick – approval of his government’s Budget for 2018, the defeat of a motion of no confidence in his Cabinet and the defeat of a call for the resignation of Speaker Dimitar Glavchev.

But Glavchev blinked. As Borissov had alluded to ahead of the November 17 vote on the call for Glavchev, the senior GERB MP lost his nerve, and in a surprise move, stepped down from the Speaker’s chair.

At the same time, while Glavchev said that he had not resigned at the request of Borissov, it also has been suggested that the opposite was the case.

In the face of a partial boycott by the BSP to back its demand for Glavchev to quit as Parliament’s principal presiding officer, Borissov risked the prospect of 90 empty seats in the 240-member House when European Parliament President Antonio Tajani addresses the National Assembly on November 21. To spare Borissov this embarrassment, Glavchev had to walk the plank.

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party had taken a scalp in spite of the fact that it could not have rallied the numbers to oust Glavchev. It is a psychological blow for Borissov’s party, which continues to lead in the polls and with which Kornelia Ninova’s BSP has been unable to catch up.

For Ninova, who recently – for the time being – overcame internal opposition to her leadership of the party, the resignation of Glavchev as Speaker was a triumph most observers could not have expected.

A triumph not only political but personally political, because it had been Glavchev’s expulsion of Ninova from the House two days earlier that had precipitated the BSP motion for him to resign.

Glavchev’s insistence he had done nothing wrong – in reference to him expelling Ninova and her fellow BSP MP Anton Koutev – sounded hollow. He compounded matters by saying that he was considering resigning from Parliament itself, because he could not sit in the same chamber as the BSP.

For an opposition BSP that cannot precipitate early elections and even if it could, could not win them, seeing off one of Borissov’s most senior office-bearers is a major fillip for a party with no other victories to show. Or at least, none under Ninova’s leadership since the Roumen Radev ticket it backed won the November 2016 presidential elections, a year and four days ago.

Reacting after Glavchev’s resignation as Speaker, Ninova hailed it as “an opportunity for a new beginning”.

In the view of Ninova, what had happened was a “test of political maturity, whether we are ready to re-launch parliamentarianism, whether we are ready to restore constitutional principles – that the supreme governing body is Parliament and executive power is put in place by this Parliament and is controlled by this Parliament”.

Ninova’s words reflected the party line, of portraying Borissov as an unchecked authoritarian ruler who has marginalised Parliament. Whether this view would withstand sober analysis is another matter, but in political rhetoric, accuracy and factual precision are not necessarily common currency.

Tsvetan Tsvetanov, parliamentary group leader of GERB, attempted damage control by portraying Glavchev’s resignation as move intended to “allow the National Assembly to work normally and allow both the ruling majority and the opposition to be heard”.

Tsvetanov said that the GERB parliamentary group did not want to see the legislature discredited. He called on MPs to substantiate any statements they make and to refrain from personal attacks.

This was perhaps not the most carefully-crafted statement that Tsvetanov could have made. Saying that Glavchev quit to allow the National Assembly to work normally looked very much like a concession that the Speaker had stepped aside precisely because of the BSP’s partial boycott that it had announced to try to force Glavchev to go.

Tsvetanov’s statement also reversed the GERB line on the controversy, which had been that in spite of the absence of the BSP, the National Assembly was continuing to work normally. With words that seem to have not been fully thought-through, Tsvetanov augmented the sense of a triumph for the BSP.

Tsvetanov also called for “no speculation” about Glavchev’s ouster, which in the heady and deeply fractious world of Bulgarian daily politics, seems somewhat Quixotic.

Volen Siderov, leader of the parliamentary group of the United Patriots, the grouping of far-right and nationalist parties that is the minority partner in Borissov’s government, described Glavchev’s resignation as a compromise for the sake of stability and calm.

Siderov said that there had been no breach of the rules of Parliament by Glavchev but his stepping down was a “compromise in the name of stability, a better peace in the household”.

“Let that be appreciated by the BSP and not become a cause for extortion, which would be a bad practice and will lead to a dead end,” said Siderov, adding that the BSP was not ready for early parliamentary elections, only for playing opposition games.

Mustafa Karadayi, leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the fourth-largest group in the National Assembly and an opposition party, said that his party highly appreciated what Glavchev had done.

“We call for the next Speaker of the National Assembly to be at the level of the institution’s requirements,” Karadayi said.

Vesselin Mareshki, leader of the smallest parliamentary group, the 12-MP Volya, said that Glavchev probably had lost his nerve.

Mareshki went on to say that his Volya party would now embark on a boycott of its own of sittings of the National Assembly, pending the resignation of BSP MP Ivo Hristov who had provoked a separate melodrama by saying that 80 per cent of Bulgarians were idiots.

“I hope for the right gestures from each parliamentary group, I hope for new moral gestures,” Mareshki said.

For Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov, a member of the Cabinet from the United Patriots quota, Glavchev made a mistake in resigning.

It was hardly rare in Bulgaria’s Parliament for there to be clashes between MPs and sharp-tongued exchanges, Karakachanov said.

“If you look at the attitude of some opposition MPs to their colleagues from the governing majority, that also hardly can be called brilliant or within the rules of procedure of the National Assembly. But no one chases them out of Parliament, not so? I do not think that this resignation was the right decision,” Karakachanov said.

The coming weeks will see the vote in the National Assembly on Budget 2018, and on the BSP’s motion of no confidence in the Borissov government. The BSP has no chance of getting the former rejected and the latter approved. But the Glavchev episode means, for Borissov, no hat trick, and thanks to Glavchev blinking, a blemish on his claims that GERB can win every skirmish with the BSP.

(Photo of Glavchev: parliament.bg)



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.