Bulgarian coalition government minority partner and the Simeonov controversy: Shaken and stirred
The political melodrama in the United Patriots, the minority partner in Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s coalition government, left the “Patriots” anything but united at the end of the day on October 23.
A meeting of the leaders of the United Patriots was held in the afternoon, to consider the demands for United Patriots co-leader Valeri Simeonov to step down as Deputy Prime Minister, amid the indignation over his comments against protesting mothers of children with disabilities, mothers he had described as “shrill women” and as pushing political and commercial aims.
But that meeting was not quite all it might have been billed to be.
Another of the United Patriots co-leaders, fellow Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov, opposed the demand for Simeonov’s resignation. But the third co-leader, Ataka chief Volen Siderov – who has made strident calls for Simeonov to quit – absented himself from the meeting. A meeting that Siderov had been instrumental in demanding.
Before the meeting of the United Patriots’ leaders, or at least two out of three of them, Simeonov had made a public appeal to organisations backing calls against his resignation to not proceed with a planned protest on October 24.
That so-called “counter-protest” was to coincide with a Cabinet meeting, presided over by PM Borissov – back in the country after official visits to the United Arab Emirates and to Egypt while at home the controversy around Simeonov had simmered – and while all eyes were on whether there would be, as some predicted, a meeting of the coalition council of all the parties in Bulgaria’s government.
Simeonov, the target of protests organised on social networks demanding that he step down from government, signalled that he would not quit. “I feel confident and convinced of what I am doing,” he said.
Directly addressing concerns that his resignation could bring down Borissov’s government, the third in office of the centre-right GERB party leader, Simeonov said that he did not believe that his presence in the government was essential for it to continue.
Siderov’s faction does not want it to continue. Ataka wants someone else from the United Patriots to succeed Simeonov in office. As dusk gathered on October 23, the ushering from the Cabinet building of Simeonov seemed, however, improbable.
In turn, Simeonov’s party wants Siderov out as the leader of the United Patriots parliamentary group, largely on the basis of Siderov using his mouthpiece cable television channel to insult Simeonov. Some Bulgarian-language media queried the impact of this message. In the day or so that Siderov’s channel substituted its scheduled programming with messages against Simeonov, it may reasonably – going by ratings – expected to have been watched by about 1000 people, out of Bulgaria’s population of seven million.
In this situation, of faction fighting within the government minority partner, the hours after dawn on October 24 were to bring further confrontation between the implacable and the intractable, in a latter-day Bulgarian political environment in which little appears improbable.
Karakachanov, on October 23, pointed to what he saw as the unacceptable – a fall from power of Bulgaria’s government, to be replaced by a new coalition of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
At the same time, expressing apparent weariness at trying to bring together in a workable peace the two other co-leaders, bemoaning the fact that in office, the “Patriots” coalition had found “no common language”, Karakachanov underlined his view that a fall of the current government was not a viable option.
And for all the high emotions and minute-by-minute Bulgarian media coverage of the melodrama within the minority partner, the protests against Simeonov and his disparaging comments, for all the high dudgeon they garnered on social media, gathered little more than a very few hundred protesters to demand his departure from office.
Borissov, on his aircraft touching down from Egypt as the protesters gathered, appeared in scant danger of hazardous crosswinds in the corridors of power, in a city under a code yellow warning of strong winds the following day of the kind that may overturn flowerpots, but not necessarily a government.
(Photo, of an October 23 protest demanding the resignation of Simeonov as Deputy PM: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)