Between West Hall and East Hall: Seven Reasons Why Bulgaria's New Cabinet Is Unprecedented
Thursday, November 6, 2014 will be remembered as a peculiar day for Bulgaria's democracy, and this definition has many layers worth mentioning. Here are at least seven of them.
Layer 1. Twenty-five years on since the socialist era ended, such a range of parties (left-leaning, right-leaning and nationalist combining features of both sides of the political spectrum) are somehow involved in the government. Center-right GERB, the mandate-bearer, and the right-wing coalition called Reformist Bloc, both pointed for weeks as the most logical two entities to form a cabinet, choose to rely on the support of partners which they have long deemed unacceptable: the Patriotic Front, a nationalist alliance rejecting one of the RB's parties (which nevertheless has not pulled out), and Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) led by President (2002-2012) Georgi Parvanov who was been much criticized by almost all parties.
Layer 2. Even though it might (and it does, for good reasons) look as "an unholy alliance" to the electorate of all parties related to the new cabinet, it was the last resort to avoid new early elections, again with taxpayers' money, and to have an elected decisionmaking body that could be held accountable by the Parliament where it comes from. This comes in a sharp contrast to the spectacular Q&A sessions over the last few days in Parliament, when the interim ministers were subject to control from a legislature it has nothing to do with.
This "unholy alliance" was in fact admitted by GERB leader, and the next Prime Minister (if lawmakers approve him, and they will) Boyko Borisov, who said while signing the partnership agreement with ABV's leader Parvanov that he "had no option" but to turn to the party, which had portrayed itself as an arch-enemy to GERB and all the "status quo" parties during the election campaign.
Layer 3. Borisov is at least publicly committed to a process of power-sharing that no-one could have imagined until only a few weeks ago. And he accepts coalitions as a legitimate form of governance. This is a striking achievement regardless of the backroom games he and other politicians are probably engaged in.
Layer 4. The Prime Minister candidate acknowledged, again for the first time, his plans had been to forge a grand coalition. Previous "confessions" (like one in an interview with Reuters) were made to be disowned just within hours.Now he said it outright: a socialist-conservative government was on the steamline and would have been created if both parties had got the amount of support they craved for. And it seems to have been decided beforehand; but this is where voters came in.
Layer 5. Thursday's breakthrough was made after a month of political bargaining, with part of the process carried out behind closed doors, but another one was undoubtedly held in public. The weeks of "negotiations" rightfully enjoy mixed reception from media, expert and public observers of the entire performance. Yes, it was "performance" because leaders were constantly describing talks as "utterly transparent", and repeated this to the point of grotesque.
There is now hardly anyone to believe nothing special is to be seen behind the curtains.
Layer 6. Boyko Borisov will be the first Bulgarian after 1989 to have a second term as Prime Minister.
Layer 7. And here is the bad news, here is the new old danger which could make history repeat itself.
For our purpose I will call it "West Hall and East Hall".
West Hall was where GERB, the RB and the PF met, with the former two signing a coalition agreement and the latter agreeing to provide support.
East Hall was where GERB struck a partnership deal with ABV just two minutes after meeting the RB and PF.
Borisov thus had to talk with leaders separately in two rooms located on the opposite sides of Bulgaria's National Assembly, since Parvanov demanded that his document be signed during a second meeting.
Plevneliev's predecessor at the Presidency apparently made the gesture to distance himself from the other two parties. But why did he need that? It might have been a move to calm down voters (who were just a bit more than the minimum to send his party in Parliament) that he is not abandoning social democracy and efforts to propose different approach to the "left" idea than the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). But this does not stand to reason: he has already agreed to expose himself to the risk by throwing his weight behind the government.
No, it's more simple. As Parvanov himself put it, he had "personal arrangements" with Borisov, and not with the other parties. In other words, he does not support the cabinet for any other reason than something personal between the two men which goes quite beyond the political process.
Politics always requires some bargaining at such a pre-government phase in order to be successful; and even though voters might dislike it, some things have to remain behind closed doors, and between two leaders. Not just in Bulgaria, but also in any democracy.
But Parvanov's message raises another concern and it stems from the fact that this cabinet is a combination of Borisov's effort to persuade (and subsequent deals of personal nature) and appetites of smaller parties to both be in power and reap the harvest of all concessions Borisov obviously made to lure them in the government.
Will therefore the government collapse if Borisov fails to deliver on any of the leaders' demand?
To conclude, the new cabinet might set a number of records in Bulgaria's recent history. But it also risks
1) becoming an expression of Borisov's personal will;
2) collapsing if Borisov tries to have a freer hand, with "supportive" leaders pulling out, accusing him of failing to comply and shunning their own responsibility at the same time convincing their own voters they did their best.
However, after so many "precedents" (all mentioned above), to end with the good news is more natural. Judging by all the four parties' effort in the past month, and including that of Borisov, who would have certainly been ready to decide on new elections and win them again, most parties prefer to avoid a scenario in which they would have to find out voters' patience is wearing thin. And in order to cling to power, an end they undoubtedly pursue, they will have to sing us something new. Perhaps they will even find out that, to their amusement, West Hall and East Hall are located under the same roof, in the same building.
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