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Bulgarian Parliament Accepts Government’s Resignation

Views on BG | February 22, 2013, Friday // 08:12| Views: 726 | Comments: 0
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Bulgaria: Bulgarian Parliament Accepts Government’s Resignation NYT: A former karate instructor, bodyguard, fireman and mayor of Sofia with a shaved head and a talk-tough approach, Mr. Borisov was once viewed as being so invincible that Bulgarians called him “Batman.” Photo by BGNES

New York Times

By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER and DAN BILEFSKY

The Bulgarian Parliament voted on Thursday to accept the government's resignation after a week of mass protests and bloody clashes with the police.

The vote was 209 to 5, with one abstention. Prime Minister Boiko Borisov and his cabinet officials will remain in their posts until an interim government is appointed by President Rosen Plevneliev. New elections are expected in April or May.

During the debate, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the interior minister, said the resignation was in the best interest of Bulgaria.

"Most Bulgarian citizens don't want violence on the streets," he said. "Bulgarian citizens absolutely do not support those who want to destabilize the country."

Opposition parties accused the government of corruption, economic mismanagement and cronyism.

The week of political chaos, nationwide protests and political maneuvers by opposition parties resulted in Mr. Borisov's announcing his resignation Wednesday after violent clashes between the police and protesters.

Despite the vote, around 1,000 supporters of Mr. Borisov, largely retirees, stood outside the Parliament building. Many waved the flag of Mr. Borisov's political party and chanted, "We don't want a resignation" and "Boiko is No. 1!"

The protests — the biggest in at least 15 years — were set off by electricity price increases and corruption scandals, including one over the nominee to head the state electricity regulatory commission, which sets rates. She was accused of selling cigarettes illegally online and her nomination was later withdrawn.

Tempers were inflamed further when Bulgaria's finance minister, Simeon Djankov, the architect of painful fiscal probity, stepped down on Monday. Rather than allaying anger, analysts said, the resignation was greeted by the public as an admission that the government's economic policies had not worked.

Tens of thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets across the country to protest. Some yelled "Mafia!" Others burned their utility bills.

Though the country's fiscal prudence has helped it avoid having to seek an international bailout like Hungary or Romania, analysts said, rising unemployment and weak growth, coupled with wage and pension freezes and tax increases, have mobilized the country's increasingly disgruntled middle class, who felt themselves squeezed during the financial crisis.

Daniel Smilov, program director at the Center for Liberal Strategies, a political research organization in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, said Bulgarians were disillusioned that the overthrow of Communism in 1989 and the country's subsequent democratization had not delivered the expected prosperity.

Bulgaria has struggled to shed a reputation for lawlessness and corruption. It remains poor, with an average monthly wage of just 0, the lowest in the European Union.

"What we are seeing is the result of a general distrust in government and the political system," said Mr. Smilov, noting that protests had engulfed wealthy as well as poorer regions of the country. "These are not the bottom layers of society, but people in the middle strata who have been hit hardest by the financial crisis. They fear they are losing their status, and they might become poor very fast."

Trying to appease the protesters, the prime minister said on Tuesday that the license of the Czech utility CEZ, which provides power to many residential customers in Bulgaria, would be withdrawn. Mr. Borisov cited beatings of protesters Tuesday by the police as one reason.

"Every drop of blood for us is a stain," he said. "I can't look at a Parliament surrounded by barricades, that's not our goal, neither our approach, if we have to protect ourselves from the people."

Mr. Smilov said that after Parliament accepted the government's resignation, Mr. Plevneliev would appoint a caretaker government. Mr. Borisov said his party would not participate in an interim government.

Mr. Borisov's resignation could signal the political demise of one of the country's most colorful political figures. A former karate instructor, bodyguard, fireman and mayor of Sofia with a shaved head and a talk-tough approach, Mr. Borisov was once viewed as being so invincible that Bulgarians called him "Batman."

As the owner of a private security company, he provided security services for Todor Zhivkov, the former Communist leader of Bulgaria. Mr. Borisov was then the personal bodyguard for Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the child czar of Bulgaria in the 1940s, who returned from exile to be elected prime minister in 2001.

Mr. Borisov rose to oversee the police at the Interior Ministry, before being elected mayor of Sofia and then becoming prime minister in 2009.

"Mr. Borisov is a typical populist leader who came to power promising to take revenge against the transition on behalf of the poor," says Andrei Raichev, a political analyst at Gallup International in Sofia. "Now the people realize that they were lied to."

Mr. Raichev said that no one could predict how the public would react to the resignation. "We could even reach the absurd situation that the protests continue against no one," he said, "which means that they are against everyone."

Matthew Brunwasser reported from Sofia, and Dan Bilefsky from Paris.

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Tags: Prime Minister, Boiko Borisov, Speaker of the Parliament, protests, electricity, CEZ, Borisov, Simeon Djankov, president, Rosen Plevneliev, fiscal probity
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