The Bulgaria 2009 Review: Domestic Politics

Politics » DOMESTIC | Author: Ivan Dikov |December 30, 2009, Wednesday // 08:00| Views: 6498 | Comments: 0
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Bulgaria: The Bulgaria 2009 Review: Domestic Politics Bulgaria's outgoing PM Stanishev (right) hands over power to his successor Borisov (left), July 2009, Photo by BGNES

The Government of the Three-Way Coalition

The first half of 2009 saw the last six months of the mandate of the government of Sergey Stanishev. The three way coalition, in which the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the National Movement for Stability and Prosperity of former Tsar and PM Simeon Saxe-Coburg, and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) had distributed the ministerial seats and other positions under the notorious 8:5:3 ratio, served its full term. Its last six months were marked by the rising tide of the global economic crisis and its effects on Bulgaria but also on large-scale state spending of the previously accumulated budget surplus, and bracing for the tough 2009 elections in which the GERB party of then Sofia Mayor Boyko Borisov emerged as a major opponent. Certain leaders of the BSP and the NMSP had become increasingly uneasy as part of the coalition with the ethnic Turkish party feeling that their sympathizers were against it.

Mayor Borisov vs. PM Stanishev: The Sofia Waste Disposal War

As the elections came closer, a personal duel between the Sofia Mayor and GERB party leader Boyko Borisov and Prime Minister and Socialist Party leader Sergey Stanishev. For the most part, the two men exchanged bitter criticism of one another interspersed with personal offenses even though some moments of mutual praise also existed.

In April-May, shortly before the EP and Parliamentary Elections, the Mayor and the Prime Minister clashed over the waste disposal in Sofia as Borisov was accusing Stanishev of granting concessions to the Novera firm which had been draining public funds, whereas Stanishev accused Borisov of failing to take care of garbage disposal in the capital. The government went so far as to declare an emergency situation in Sofia and to set up crisis headquarters leading to a “race” of cleaners hired by the municipality and the state. Some time later, the declaration of a waste disposal emergency by the government was declared illegal by court.

GERB: Putting together the New Government and Ruling Majority

Boyko Borisov’s GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) party won 116 MP seats in the Parliament – just 5 short of an absolute majority. Despite that fact Borisov decided to go ahead by forming a formal “minority government” without entering into explicit coalitions with other partners in order not to be dependent on their wishes.

Despite that, however, Borisov’s cabinet received the backing of three minor right-wing formations - the nationalist Ataka (21 MPs), the rightist Blue Coalition (15 MPs), and the conservative RZS (10 MPs). Of those three, only the first one has declared its unwavering support for Borisov. The Blue Coalition with its members UDF and DSB backed GERB on the basis of the three party’s joint member in the European People’s Party, whereas the conservative RZS declared a six-month period of unconditional support for Borisov.

Borisov went ahead to put together a cabinet including mostly technocrats as his young party still did not have a political establishment on a wide basis. GERB party chair Tsvetan Tsvetanov became a Deputy PM and Interior Minister, and senior World Bank economist Simeon Djankov became a Deputy PM and Finance Minister.

The Bulgarian Economy, the Crisis, and the State Budget

After growing at the rate of over 6% in the last few years based largely on investments in real estate and construction, the boom of the Bulgarian economy came to a halt as a result of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. The crisis in Bulgaria kicked in about six months after it did in the West. The real proportions of the crisis’ effects on the Bulgarian economy only became clearly visible in the late spring and the summer of 2009.

By July 2009, the much talked-of budget surplus of the previous years had evaporated, and a threatening deficit had started to loom on the horizon. Some 120 000 people mainly in construction and manufacturing had lost their jobs, and the country’s export and consumption dropped tremendously as orders from Western trading partners disappeared.

The response of the GERB government spearheaded by Finance Minister Simeon Djankov focused on cutting spending and achieving a somewhat balanced budget. The Finance Minister estimated that the state budget deficit would surpass BGN 2,5 B at the end of 2009 unless emergency measures were adopted. In October, the GERB Ministers revealed the staggering deficits that each of their institutions was facing blaming them on the violations and unsound policies of their predecessors.

The most notorious cases have been the State Railway Companies with a total deficit of almost BGN 500 M, and the Defense Ministry which was left with only BGN 1 000 in its account at a moment when it had to pay for international arms deliveries. The GERB government canceled the deal for the purchase of two French corvettes as a result.

Instead of amending the 2009 State Budget, Djankov instituted measures to cut state expenditures by BGN 1,150 B, and to curb economic crimes such as contraband and tax evasion (see below) in order to raise more state revenue.

 

The Borisov Government Measures on Fighting Corruption and Organized Crime

In 2008-2009, various foreign reports have pointed to Bulgaria’s extremely serious issues with organized crime and corruption. Boyko Borisov and his GERB party largely won the July 2009 elections on a ticket of tackling these issues in a tangible way.

Uncovering Alleged Abuses of the Former Government

Shortly after taking office, the Borisov government put a moratorium on the notorious land swap deals – exchanging top location public plots along the Black Sea and mountain resorts for rocky wastelands in the interior of the country, which has been a way of taking advantage of state property for the past few Bulgarian governments and their sponsors.

For the first time after 1989 former Bulgarian Ministers were charged over alleged abuses – former Agriculture Minister, Valeri Tsvetanov, from the ethnic Turkish DPS party and his subordinate former head of the State Forestry Agency, where some of the worst swap deals were carried out, Stefan Yurukov; former Defense Minister Nikolay Tsonev; and former Labor Minister Emiliya Maslarova.

Large-scale abuses have allegedly been uncovered in several of the Ministries – such as Defense, Transport, Regional Development, Labor – and the evidence for those have been sent to the Prosecutor’s Office. No specific results have been produced yet

The GERB government has replaced the heads of several key state agencies such as the State Agriculture Fund and the National Road Infrastructure Agency, which have been known for blatant violations (many exposed in EC and OLAF reports).

Some of the employees of the State Company "Information Services" have been exposed to get salaries of over BGN 100 000 per year which is a lot more than that of the Prime Minister. Those moves have been labeled “witch hunt” by the Socialist leader and ex PM Sergey Stanishev. Borisov has slashed the number of Deputy Ministers and Deputy District Governors – positions that the former ruling coalition often created specially for party functionaries.

The Customs Agency

Former top anti-mafia cop General Vanyo Tanov has been appointed head of the Customs Agency, which is a cornerstone of Finance Minster Djankov’s program for cracking down on smuggling and raising more state revenue. Within a couple of weeks of taking office, the new government created a joint information system of the Customs Agency and the National Revenue Agency in order to boost their cooperation on enforcing tax legislation. Bulgaria’s Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov asked all heads of regional police directorates around the country to resign, and has accepted the resignations of a number of them over their failure to crack down on criminal groups.

Cracking down on Organized Crime

The police have achieved certain successes in investigations including the arrests of corrupt policemen, and the solving of the assassination of Burgas businessman Stoyan Stoyanov, which turned to have been ordered by a former judge and a former top civil servant. In December, the Interior Ministry conducted a large scale special operation codenamed “The Impudent” in which a total of 30 gangsters were busted as being responsible for the 19 high profile kidnappings that Bulgaria saw in the last two years. Another hit on organized crime was the busting of a car theft mafia connected to the kidnappers, and the so called “Crocodiles” Gang which specialized in highway robberies.

Tough Situation at the State National Security Agency DANS

The GERB government has been faced with a difficult situation at the State National Security Agency DANS. According to Borisov, DANS was set up by his predecessor by pooling together several intelligence services as a counterbalance to the Interior Ministry formerly dominated by Stanishev’s intra-party adversary, Rumen Petkov. DANS became notorious with the Galeria case in which special agents spied on leading Bulgarian journalists in 2008. The dealings of the DANS agents are still investigated.

An even greater scandal appeared over the alleged leak of classified information. At the end of October, Borisov announced a former DANS agent, Aleksey Petrov, had brought to him in person a top secret intelligence report from October 2008 which former PM allegedly hid because it incriminated top officials. Several days later the top secret report was published online.

After that Borisov and Tsvetanov revealed that between 9 and 11 secret intelligence reports were missing since 2005, including one on contraband, and another one on abuses with the UN Oil for Foods Program for Iraq. Exactly on the 100th day of the government, the Chief Prosecutor has demanded that former Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev be stripped of his MP immunity in order to be investigated for leaking classified information, and Stanishev himself has given up his immunity voluntarily.

Krasio The Black’ and the Top Scandal at the Bulgarian Judiciary

A months-long scandal continues to shake Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council (VSS) and the entire judicial system upon revelations that VSS members, acting magistrates and prosecutors could be involved in a corruption scheme. Dozens of names have been tangled in the outrage over having contacts with the so-called Krasio The Black from Pleven. Krasimir Georgiev aka “Krasio” is an individual who, allegedly, offered magistrates to secure their appointment to high-ranking positions through the vote of the VSS in exchange for EUR 200 000 in cash.

The scandal emerged in June when a VSS member, Ivan Kolev, revealed that a “dark skinned man from the city of Pleven” had been extending such offers to magistrates. VSS members, Stoyko Stoev, Ivan Dimov and Plamen Stoilov are said to have been in contact with the man. The first two resigned under mounting pressure while the committee in charge of probing the case decided that Stoilov did not violate any ethical rules because he had only one 5-second-long phone call with Krasio. The Chair of the District Court in the Black Sea town of Nessebar, Plamen Naydenov and the Administrative Head of the Burgas District Prosecutor's Office, Angel Angelov, also resigned amidst allegations of involvement with the shady businessman.

In mid-November VSS announced that legal proceedings have been initiated against 18 of the judges and prosecutors who are proven to have been in contact with Georgiev. 17 are magistrates who have had two-way contacts with Krasimir Georgiev and have competed for high-ranking positions within the Bulgarian judicial system. The 18th is the judge from the District Court in the Black Sea capital of Varna, Stoyan Popov, who had applied for several positions, had not been elected as Chair of the District Court, but had made and received phone calls from Krasio.

Six other prosecutors and judges have been proven to have had between 5 and 33 two-way phone calls with Krasio but they did not apply for high-level judicial assignments. The third group involves 4 magistrates who received phone calls from Krasio, but never dialed him. The Chair of the Sofia District Court, Georgi Kolev is among the 4; he had a total of 3 phone conversations with Georgiev. The last group includes 2 magistrates whose phone numbers have been saved in Krasio's cell phone, but contacts have never been made.

Around the same time it was revealed that in addition to the magistrates 4 current Members of the Parliament also had contacts with Krasio. This was made public by Yane Yanev, the then Chair of the Parliamentary Anti-Corruption Committee, who said three MPs from the ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and one from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) had made calls and exchanged SMS text messages with Krasio. Some of the messages contained directions for 'lobbying' on some issues. According to the data presented by Yanev, the MPs in contact with Krasio in 2008 and 2009 are Erdoan Ahmedov, Kasim Dal, and Lyutvi Mestan from DPS (Mestan is the Deputy Chair of the party), and Kiril Dobrev from BSP. Dimitar Ivanovski, a former Deputy Minister of Finance in the Stanishev government who was in charge of the Central Finance and Contracts Unit, i.e. in charge of EU funds absorption, and officials from the Presidency are also among the contacts in Krasio’s address book.

According to Deputy Chief Prosecutor, Valeri Parvanov, a total of 1 040 number were found in Krasio’s address book, including key figures from the “gray economy”. Most of them belong to various firms. There are also some numbers that are recorded without any names. The data came from an inspection of the phone address book of Krasio’s mobile phone requested by the Chief Prosecutor’s Office.

Borisov’s Popularity

In the fall of 2009, Boyko Borisov remained the most popular Bulgarian politician, enjoying the trust and support of the overwhelming Bulgarian population – an unprecedented 77%, according to the polls. By December, his popularity was estimated to have declined by some 7-8% but still remained the highest in the country.

Conservatives RZS Out of Ruling Majority

In December, the conservative party RZS (“Order, Law, Justice”) led by its Chair Yane Yanev lost its positions in the Parliament as one of its 10 MPs, Mario Tagarinski, decided to leave the Parliamentary Group leaving it with only 9 members and therefore not enough to have a group of its own under Parliament statutes. This caused Yanev to accuse the ruling party GERB of sabotaging his party. Yanev was removed from the position of Chair of the Parliamentary Anti-Corruption Committee as his group ceased to exist. Later, he and the leader of the nationalist party Ataka, Volen Siderov, got in an ugly fight in which Siderov accused Yanev of being under political dependence because of his alleged hidden homosexuality. Yanev declared the RZS lifted its support from the GERB government starting January 2010, and that it was going to attract dissenters from the Parliamentary Groups of both GERB and Ataka.

Controversy over the Turkish-Language News on Bulgarian National TV

In December, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, declared himself in favor of a motion put forth by the nationalist party Ataka and its leader for holding a referendum over the broadcast of daily Turkish-language news emissions on the Bulgarian National TV, a practice which started in 2000 as part of minority integration policies. Not just Ataka but a large number of Bulgarians have resented the news in Turkish. Borisov’s statement supporting the motion for a referendum has been slammed by a number of political factors in the country, and has raised concerns on part of the Turkish government over the rise of anti-Turkish sentiments in Bulgaria. It has been viewed by many as a concession that Borisov has made to the Ataka party which informally provides him with a Parliamentary majority with its 21 MPs. Towards the end of December, Borisov has become more hesitant about backing a referendum on the issue, and it is unclear whether any such poll would take place at all in 2010.

Clash between President Parvanov and PM Borisov

A power scramble in the fall of 2009 resulted in a clash between the all-powerful Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and the standing-alone President (former Socialist leader) Georgi Parvanov. The clash had as a formal pretext a controversy in which the government demanded the resignations of Bulgaria’s Ambassadors to the USA and Turkey over alleged violations by Parvanov refused to sign such decrees. Borisov’s right-wing allies from the Blue Coalition and Ataka even voiced their intentions to impeach Parvanov – the reason for that being his “meddling” into the affairs of the executive and legislative branches. With an informal majority of 162 MPs out of 240, the rightist parties could have indeed impeached Parvanov. Eventually, however, the Prime Minister and the President must have reached a certain understanding of each other’s positions as the tensions quieted down.

Bulgaria’s Former Tsar Saxe-Coburg Retires, in Legal Dispute with State

After eight years in power, the National Movement for Stability and Prosperity failed to make it to the new Parliament in the July general elections receiving a very small number of votes. This has caused its founder and leader, former Tsar and ex PM Simeon Saxe-Coburg to step down. In November, the party elected former Labor Minister Hristina Hristova as its new Chair.

However, Saxe-Coburg’s name continued to make headlines in Bulgaria with his legal dispute with the Bulgarian state over the so called royal estates restituted to his family. In the fall of 2009, the Borisov government moved to demand back all 16 000 decares of forests in the Rila Mountain restored to Saxe-Coburg and his sister, plus a compensation of BGN 5 M. In December, the Parliament imposed a moratorium on the estates. This led the NMSP party to declare it would approach the Bulgarian and European Ombudsmen and the European Court of Human Rights concerning systematic violations of human rights in the country.

Stanishev – Socialists Reelect Leader despite Election Failure

The Bulgarian Socialist Party which was the major partner in the 2005-2009 three-way governing coalition lost the 2009 Parliamentary Elections to the GERB party. This immediately generated calls for the resignation of its leader, ex-PM Sergey Stanishev, who, however, refused to resign.

In October, the emergency congress of the Socialist Party reelected Sergey Stanishev party chair with 60% of the votes of the delegates. His rivals were Tatyana Doncheva, who received 16%; Yanaki Stoilov who got 15%; and Mladen Chervenyakov who received 10%. Stanishev was criticized for declaring his resignation on the very day of the congress thus giving other candidates little opportunity to prepare for the election battle that was held immediately. After the elections, the popularity of the BSP has continued to decline, and the party has been, on the whole, pushed into outright opposition. Changes in the party governing bodies are supposed to bring reform and greater accountability.

Ahmed Dogan and Bulgaria’s Ethnic Turkish Party DPS

In December, Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms) celebrated the 20th year since its founding. After eight years in power, the party whose leader Ahmed Dogan has been described by Bulgarian PM Borisov as his arch-enemy in politics, remained in opposition. Dogan, who remains one of the most controversial figures of the Bulgarian post-1989 Transition, was unanimously reelected as party leader but did hint about his possible retirement, potentially in 2010. He has made clear his views that the DPS party had gained strong position and stable development, and that remaining in opposition could be beneficial for the party. The DPS itself remains controversial in Bulgaria as according to some view it is a guarantee of the ethnic peace but according to others it has been manipulating the society and the ethnic Turkish minority in order to realize the corporate interests of its leadership.

Unknown Turkish Soldier Monument Sparks Outrage in Bulgaria

In October-November, two brothers from the village of Slavyanovo in Northeastern Bulgaria, Ali and Yuzeir Yuzeirovi, sparked a public outrage by erecting a “Monument of the Unknown Turkish/Muslim Soldier”.

The Unknown Turkish Soldier monument which featured a pyramid with a crescent and a cross on top with the inscription “Bulgaria, They Died for You”, which is also on the Unknown Warrior Monument in downtown Sofia, was torn down in October after it was constructed without permission. The brothers attempted to rebuild the monument in November but were banned to do so by the authorities. Earlier, the two brothers attempted to found a Muslim Democratic Union party, which was refused registration.

Views on the initiative of the Yuzeirovi Brothers have ranged from seeing it as inspired by attempts to radicalize the Muslims in Bulgaria, to undercover attempts by the ethnic Turkish party DPS that was testing the government of GERB and Boyko Borisov by creating religious and ethnic tensions.

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