Why Bulgaria's Ex-President Bid to Chair Socialists Is Wrong
One of the key political events of the week in Bulgaria was the formal confirmation by President Georgi Parvanov that he intends to run for chair of the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
After long months of intimations to that effect on the part of the President and the ensuing speculations among analysts and party circles, we now know for certain that during the socialist congress in May we will witness a clash for the leader’s position.
Parvanov chaired the Bulgarian Socialist Party 1997-2001, before serving two 5-year terms as Bulgaria’s president 2002-2012. He was succeeded by present socialist and PES leader Sergey Stanishev.
As things stand now, the best scenario in the clash between Parvanov and Stanishev is comparatively impossible – the scenario in which this clash imply does not happen. The second best option – Parvanov does not manage to get the leader’s seat.
A number of important circumstances around Parvanov’s candidacy make it deeply inacceptable and contrary to political logic.
Said with few words, Parvanov’s bid is untimely, lacking in content, and presented with a high degree of arrogance. This and more suffice to judge that a policy led by him will be harmful for both the Socialist Party and Bulgarian political life in general.
Let’s think about timing first. Why does the Socialist Party need to change leaders right now? It is true that Stanishev has a term in office, a congress is coming, and anyone who meets the internal party criteria can present his or her candidacy. But what is the ground on which Stanishev must go, and precisely now?
Perhaps Stanishev should have stepped down after the Socialists’ dismal showing in general elections in 2005, and the loss of a battle for image with current PM Boyko Borisov. For some reason or another this did not happen, but if it had happened, it wouldn’t have been illogical. What has changed in BSP since then, so that a leadership change is necessary?
The blatant answer: what’s new is simply the fact that since end of January Georgi Parvanov is no longer acting president of the Republic of Bulgaria and might anew sit at the helm of the left.
Such an answer is of course ridiculous and contrary to the logic of internal party development. Many were also understandably irritated by the enviable speed with which Parvanov mutated from a non-partisan president, embodying the unity of the nation, in a pretender for the leadership position of a political party.
Which leads us to the lack of content of Parvanov’s bid. Parvanov himself has yet failed to explain what precisely makes him leading BSP warranted.
What are the alternatives he has formulated contrary to the current direction of the party? In what ways will the party under his leadership be more responsible to its supporters and the country? How is he going to counteract the cabinet’s policies? What are his specific views about, e.g., the development of Bulgaria’s economy or Bulgaria’s role in EU politics?
Yet again – what is new here is not some contentful vision for the future of the Socialist Party and Bulgaria, what is new is simply the claim that Georgi Parvanov makes to the throne of the party.
This brings to mind the arrogance we mentioned. For the ten years he spent in the presidential institution, Parvanov has acquired the characteristic attitude of a sublime moral judge, sitting somewhere up there, high above other political actors; a judge who can absolutely assess the worth of their deeds.
If this position is already somewhat problematic for an acting president, then it is even more so for a politician fighting for a leadership position in a party. Of course, Parvanov will be trying to capitalize the sympathies that his presidential image has for many socialist supporters. But the value of such a move is deeply questionable.
Perhaps it is not in general wrong for a former president to become a party leader after the end of his term. Anyway it is clear that Parvanov is alien to any such doubts – evidence for which is the ABV movement he founded in 2010, an action that bothered many socialists, who thought he might want to split the left.
Harmonizing with this haughty tone of a higher entity, Parvanov’s statements are ever more frequently imbued openly paternalistic notes and a characteristic sentimental old-fashioned patriarchal quality. Even around the end of his first term as President, Parvanov has been criticized for attempting to act as "the father of the nation," not its president.
It is for political scientists to say whether this is to be called “populism” or not. Perhaps it is only naturally fitting for Parvanov’s political palette. Perhaps it also befits the views many Bulgarians have of what a politician should be. If this is true indeed, things are so much the worse.
All of the above only casts a grimmer light on Parvanov’s insinuations that he would like to open up BSP to new, stronger coalition partners, meaning ruling GERB. As a matter of fact this seems to unfortunately be the only really innovative proposal of the new leadership candidate.
Anyone can easily see how deleterious that would be for both BSP and Bulgarian political life. For socialists supporters this would be one new reason for distancing from a party that has been already half-heartedly loved for years now. For all Bulgarians this would mean a coalition more unprincipled that the mythical three-way coalition cabinet of Stanishev (2005-9).
The only sensible option remaining is that what Parvanov can offer to the party is a more successful and more captivating leadership than Stanishev, who as a matter of fact did not succeed in cashing in on the Socialists’ standing as an opposition to the problematic rule of the GERB cabinet.
But maybe such an inappropriately formulated and presented candidacy undermines the very hypothesis of leadership qualities of the candidate?
Parvanov has already thrown the glove and it will be practically impossible to give up. The only useful move in front of him is to step down from the pedestal on which he has ascended, to get rid of his paternalistic ways, and to fill his candidacy with content.
Else he is going to lose. Or worse – he will win and will turn from the man who transformed BSP in a modern European left party, into the man who brought Bulgarian political life back to the pre-modern age.