Resignation Fails to Soothe Bulgarians
by Matthew Brunwasser
The Bulgarian government tried to defuse mounting public anger by giving up power, but the Parliament's vote to accept the resignation of the prime minister and his cabinet on Thursday did little to calm discontent over rising prices and falling standards of living or to mend political divisions that have plagued Bulgaria since the fall of Communism more than 20 years ago.
The vote to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov and his ministers was overwhelming — 209 to 5, with one abstention — but the path to fresh elections, now expected in April or May, remained fraught.
The ministers will stay on as caretakers until President Rosen Plevneliev appoints an interim government, perhaps as early as next week.
Large protests across Bulgaria have brought hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets in the past 10 days, and led to clashes with the police in Sofia on Tuesday. Mr. Borisov swiftly offered his resignation as politicians on all sides decried the violence.
Although criminal mafias that appeared post-Communism have a history of internecine killings, political violence has been rare in Bulgaria, even in 1989, when fellow Communists ousted a longtime dictator, Todor Zhivkov. Bulgarians recoiled at the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia and the violence that convulsed Romania when it overthrew its dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.
“We have always been people of order,” Mr. Borisov told deputies in Parliament shortly after the vote Thursday. “Anyone who would ever try do anything with public order would never be accepted as one of our sympathizers, and we would always consider him as a provocateur.”
“Bulgarian citizens,” said the departing interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, “absolutely do not support those who want to destabilize the country.”
The prime minister, a burly former karate champion and head of a security firm, thanked the deputies for their vote before leaving the legislature building and trying to persuade a crowd of several hundred of his supporters to go home.
After the vote, Mr. Plevneliev said at a news conference broadcast live on television, “In a crisis situation, political parties and politicians are the ones who need to show statesmanly behavior.”
“The most important thing now is not to threaten civil peace, the rule of law and our democratic order,” he said.
While some protesters suggested changing the Constitution to prevent monopolies like those in electricity distribution, which they accuse of raising rates, Mr. Plevneliev said that only policies could prevent monopolies and that they must come from elected legislators and a government.
Mr. Tsvetanov accused opposition parties of fomenting the chaos. The opposition, in turn, accused the government of corruption, economic mismanagement and cronyism.
Current polls suggest that the Socialists, now the biggest opposition party, will do well in elections. But the vote is distant enough, and the current protests so apparently spontaneous, that predictions are difficult and uncertain.
Most in the pro-Borisov crowd outside Parliament were retirees, waving his party flag but denying that they had been sent there by party operatives. Farmers driving five tractors and a truck with live pigs joined them.
“There is no other Bulgarian politician these last 23 years who has this level of support from the people,” said one protester, Stefka Tsankova. “Boiko Borisov is loved.”
The protests are economic, not political, she added. “People are angry because bills are high and salaries are low.”
Ivan Stoyanov, 67, waved dismissively at the Parliament building. “They all deserve the guillotine,” he said — with the exception of Mr. Borisov.
“Mr. Borisov is the best leader Bulgaria has had until now,” he said. “There is no way he could have undone all the damage which has been done to the country in the last three and a half years.”
Svetoslav Iliev, 38, a lawyer, expressed fear of the Socialists, whose origins lie in the former Communist Party. “I support the government because I don’t want the Communists to come to power,” he said. “It’s a threat to democracy.”
Protesters opposed to the electricity price rises vowed to continue their demonstrations, including nationwide rallies on Sunday.