The regular weekly meeting of Bulgaria’s Cabinet on July 25 had an irregular element – the presence of Volen Siderov, parliamentary leader of the United Patriots, there to continue his battle with Deputy Prime Minister and “Patriots” co-leader Valeri Simeonov.
Reports from the meeting said that Siderov and Simeonov indulged in verbal clashes during the meeting, without Prime Minister Boiko Borissov intervening.
This was part of the latest episode of tensions between Siderov and Simeonov, who have been embroiled in disputes involving trading accusations of lobbyism and calling into question the future of their coalition, a grouping of far-right and ultra-nationalist parties.
Siderov, leader of the Ataka party, told reporters that he wanted an apology from Simeonov for statements that the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria leader had made, failing which he would take court action and seek Simeonov’s removal as a deputy head of the Bulgarian government.
The Ataka leader called for the withdrawal of the draft law on excessive noise at resorts, in a direct attack on a signature issue for Simeonov. Siderov had accused Simeonov, who for a second year has been conducting a high-profile campaign against places of entertainment at Bulgaria’s Sunny Beach, of damaging the national interest by attacking the tourism industry.
Siderov told reporters: “I sent him (Simeonov) into government to work to increase the incomes and pensions of people, our main issue, not to walk around with a sound-measuring instrument in his hand”.
Another bone of contention within the minority partner in government is the Privatisation and Post-Privatisation Control Act amendments, which were vetoed on July 24 by President Roumen Radev. Simeonov had criticised these amendments, tabled by Ataka and initially backed by Boiko Borissov’s GERB, as lobbyist, in favour of a particular business person, Kiril Domuschiev.
At the Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Borissov sought to defend the amendments, which had they survived in the form initially approved by Parliament, would have effectively limited the state’s control over post-privatisation commitments made by new owners, as it would prevent imposing any contractual penalties beyond five years after the privatisation date.
The bill has been referred to in some Bulgarian media reports as the “Domuschiev amendment”, after Kiril and Georgi Domuschiev, who acquired the state-owned maritime shipping company Navibulgar in 2008.
The amendments were tabled shortly after a court ruled that the Domuschiev-owned vehicle that holds the majority stake in Navibulgar was on the hook for as much as 58 million leva in penalties for failing to meet the privatisation contract clauses.
Simeonov had referred to Kiril Domuschiev as “Private Kiro”, saved by the amendments. Borissov said at the Cabinet meeting that in July 2017, the government had taken a decision on court action in the matter.
“If we wanted to save Private Kiro or Private Ryan, we would not have brought these cases,” Borissov said. The state defended only the public interest, he said.
In the corridors of the National Assembly, the dispute also resounded, with Simeonov’s party hitting back at Siderov.
NFSB MP Valentin Kassabov said: “We have known Mr Siderov for years, this is a man who often confuses fantasy with reality”.
It remains unclear what impact, if any, the infighting in the United Patriots may have on the future of Borissov’s third government. However, it repeatedly has been said, in recent months, that the United Patriots three principal parties will stand separately, and not as an electoral coalition, when Bulgaria votes in European Parliament elections at the end of May 2019. It is also not expected that the coalition will stand together in the municipal elections.