Dispute over Bulgaria's New Debt Leaves Fmr President's Image Tarnished
Lawmakers in Bulgaria's Parliament ratified on Wednesday an agreement that allows Sofia to secure BGN 16 B in fresh foreign borrowing. The economic dimensions are subject to dispute that is certainly yet to unfold. But the political ones are already emerging. ABV, one of Bulgaria's youngest parties, is a good example.
'Unprincipled Coalition' vs 'Bad Communication'
Bulgarian President (2002-2011) Georgi Parvanov surprised many by vowing to step down as the leader of his own party, Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV), on Wednesday. He cited his party's vote in Parliament supporting the new debt, a move he pledged not to support.
"It may have been due to bad communication between us" pushed "our parliamentary group... to support the [new BGN 16 B] debt," Parvanov explained to shed more light on his decision.
ABV, a left-wing party, has a minister in Bulgaria's cabinet where conservative GERB and rightist Reformist Bloc (RB) are coalition partners. The socialist party BSP, from which Parvanov was expelled when he announced he would use his own project (back then only a movement) to run in the EU elections last year, accuses its opponent of taking part in an "unprincipled" coalition.
"We are not in a coalition," ABV lawmakers usually retort, "we have agreed to have a minister in the government to put forward our policies..." And yet, socialists describe them as "unprincipled."
Was ABV's vote a matter of principles? Was it "principles" that pushed Parvanov to declare he would resign at the next National Congress of the party, and not immediately? Local structures are not quite sure; nor do they consider this important, They would like to have Parvanov at the helm despite his intention to resign, as ABV's Varna-based organization explained in a statement just a few hours after the announcement.
The truth is that Parvanov's ABV, once openly presented as his own project aimed at boosting democracy (it only became a party in 2014, after "hanging in the air" since 2010), is still a leader-type party where he is considered to have the final say. ABV itself emerged out of the rivalry between Parvanov and former BSP Chair Stanishev, who have had several instances of tension over who will wield more influence on the party. (Stanishev took over from Parvanov as the latter was elected President in 2001).
Apart from being one of the few heads of state Bulgaria has had so far in its most recent history, Parvanov is currently the only one of them heading a party - what is more, leading a party that is in the government. It is hard to really imagine him resigning; such a move would put off voters who picked "Parvanov's party" to support a man who is said to have put the BSP back on its feet after the disastrous defeat in the 1997 early elections that followed a deep economic and financial crisis in Bulgaria. It would also drive away traditional BSP voters disillusioned with problems still underpinning the party's policies even at times when the BSP is in the comfortable role of "the opposition."
So was Parvanov's move "staged", as some observers suggested, or was it a conscious act testing support within his own party?
Whatever the truth, ABV has lost some of its credibility, and Parvanov is now seeking ways to mend ties with the electorate. It is not only about the debt move: his party has backed a number of bills proposed by the bigger coalition partners that do not fit in with its own ideology. But the latter vote, which seems to have put the former President's reputation at stake, turned into the first major test for the Bulgaria's diverse ruling coalition. It raises the question if parties aren't so far bearing more electoral harm than dividends from their cooperation in the minority cabinet. Certainly, this will not be the problem if they manage to put the economy and financial system of Bulgaria back afloat, something of which (polls suggest) most Bulgarians are nevertheless doubtful. For now.
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