Turmoil in Bulgaria’s Movement for Rights and Freedoms continues

The turmoil in Bulgaria’s Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) entered its latest day on July 9, as a group of MPs opposed to parliamentary leader Delyan Peevski refused to attend a meeting he called to discuss the group’s approach to the mandate it will receive to seek to form a government.

This was among the latest episodes in the days of high drama in the MRF after factions in the group voted in different ways in the July 3 abortive attempt by Boiko Borrissov’s GERB-UDF to get a government elected.

GERB-UDF had held, as Parliament’s largest group, the first mandate to seek to form a government. As Parliament’s second-largest group, the next mandate will be handed to the MRF.

While Peevski said on July 4 that the MRF would on receipt of the second mandate immediately return it unfulfilled, dissident voices in the parliamentary group have pushed for it to try to get a government elected.

Tensions in the MRF have accumulated as Peevski, a controversial figure sanctioned by the US and the UK for large-scale corruption – allegations he denies – has moved to put his imprint on the party, and is seen as behind the ouster of various MRF figures, including long-time MP Ramadan Atalai, who is close to MRF founder and honorary life president Ahmed Dogan.

On July 5, Dogan held talks for some hours with MRF MPs, including party co-leader Dzhevdet Chakurov, who had voted against GERB-UDF candidate Prime Minister Rossen Zhelazykov, against Peevski’s wishes.

Little of substance came out in public statements after Dogan’s meeting with that group, with Chakurov speaking of “no turning back” without any clarity about what he meant by that. A statement was expected from Dogan in the days after the July 5 meeting, but has not yet materialised.

Participants in the meeting claimed that the ouster of Peevski as co-leader of the MRF and as leader of the parliamentary group was not discussed.

Peevski has denied that group is split or is about to split, and in a lengthy, emotional statement on July 6, insisted that there was no division between him and Dogan.

In spite of all evidence to the contrary. Various other MRF figures have given interviews denying a split, claims that have rung hollow given the daily dramatic episodes.

Backing for Dogan has come from parties in the liberal political family abroad, for which a statement was posted on July 9 on the MRF website expressing thanks.

At regional level, there have been statements on the situation by local structures, some hedging their bets by expressing support for both Peevski and Dogan.

The fact that Peevski, the first figure not of ethnic Turkish identity to occupy a national leadership position in the MRF since its founding, is seen as behind ousters of MRF politicians who are of ethnic Turk descent, is seen as exacerbating tensions in the party and against Peevski.

Those MPs who refused to participate in Peevski’s July 9 meeting listed objections including the fact that Peevski was the sole parliamentary leader, when Dogan had stated that he wanted the party’s co-leaders to also be its parliamentary co-leaders.

Another twist in the drama was a letter to ambassadors of EU and Nato member states, supposedly authored by MRF MP Stanislav Anastassov, the authenticity of which was denied by Anastassov. The letter alleged that Peevski – who for months has sought to build up Euro-Atlantic credentials – was in reality under Kremlin influence. To add to the confusion, the letter added that Peevski and the MRF remained committed to Euro-Atlantic values.

President Roumen Radev has not yet announced when he will hand the second mandate to the MRF. This lack of an announcement is widely seen as Radev waiting to see how the internal situation in the MRF will develop.

Whether or not the MRF proposes a government, should the second mandate fail, matters will proceed to a third-mandate stage. The constitution gives the head a state a free hand in choosing to which parliamentary group to grant the third mandate.

On July 9, GERB-UDF reiterated, again, that it would not support a government proposed at the second or third mandate stages.

The We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria coalition, the third-largest group, has said that it would remain in opposition, though some voices in the coalition have spoken of trying to get a government elected.

Pro-Kremlin party has said that it wants the third mandate and wants an anti-GERB, anti-MRF ruling majority, the Bulgarian Socialist Party repeated on July 9 that it would not vote for a government nominated on the basis of a mandate held by the MRF, while populist ITN has said that it wants the third mandate.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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