March 22 brought the end of the political truce between Bulgarian President Roumen Radev and Prime Minister Boiko Borissov for the sake of the fight against Covid-19, as the President imposed a partial veto on the State of Emergency Measures Bill and Borissov hit back at Radev with accusations of breaking his word.
At a briefing lasting more than 90 minutes and broadcast live, Borissov, holding a printout of Radev’s statement, lashed out with point-by-point rejection of what the President had said in a live broadcast to the nation at noon.
Repeatedly, Borissov, who along with members of the Cabinet and the crisis staff met Radev at the Presidency on Thursday, emphasised that at that meeting, Radev had accepted the measures proposed and had described them as timely. Borissov asked who had got Radev to change his stance by Sunday.
The Prime Minister also repeatedly underlined that now was not the time to open up the State Reserve and spend it all immediately. He denounced what he called the voices making calls for populist measures.
Borissov emphasised that the bill’s measure against speculation, criticised by Radev, had been included as an amendment at the proposal of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, which had backed Radev’s election ticket. But the President had in his statement mentioned only the government and not the BSP, he said. He dismissed Radev as being “egocentric” and indulging in political PR.
Borissov was scornful of big business, terming them oligarchs, who within one week since the State of Emergency began, wanted the state to hand over billions to them. Borissov said that his priority was pensioners, services such as the police, medical professionals and the army, and most of all, people’s health.
Borissov stressed that no one knew how long the Covid-19 crisis would last, when the illness would peak, or the length and depth of the resulting economic crisis in the outside world, including economies to which Bulgaria was closely tied.
Responding to the President’s criticisms about the bill’s provisions handing expanded powers to the military to control the civilian population, Borissov was caustic, saying that the intention was not to put tanks on the streets but to have the military available to assist if needed to make deliveries to pensioners and keep order if people put health at risk by gathering in large groups. He rejected Radev’s assertion that the government was intruding on the President’s prerogatives as commander in chief of the armed forces.
“Why is it necessary to play with the fears of people?” Borissov said, saying that history showed that people who played such games always lost.
Returning to the theme of the BSP, he said that its proposals always led to a deficit, while his GERB party’s policy was a balanced Budget – though he cautioned that the current situation may not make that possible next year.
Borissov warned that now it would be effectively impossible for Bulgaria to borrow money, another reason for it not to immediately empty the state coffers. Responding to a question from a reporter, he said that there was no new money from the EU – which in any case had not approved a new budget – but only a message that member states could reallocate money in existing programmes to fight coronavirus.
“For us, there is no one to give money if we make a mistake,” he said.
Borissov expressed consternation at Radev’s charge that the bill’s provisions for heavy fines for posting false information amounted to extinguishing the last remnants of free speech in Bulgaria.
Repeatedly likening the fight against Covid-19 to a war, Borissov said that Radev had generated bad energy and a bad environment. “Did he not say on Thursday that these measures were good?”
Borissov, several times in his remarks, emphasised the need for national unity and a national effort. “Let us unite, only that way will we get through the crisis,” he said.