BALKAN BLOG: Bulgaria’s DPS looks to benefit as government comes under pressure

BALKAN BLOG: Bulgaria’s DPS looks to benefit as government comes under pressure
DPS leader Mutafa Karadayi.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia October 30, 2017

Bulgaria’s ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS) has demanded the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov — and says that if the minister fails to step down the whole government should go. The calls for Simeonov’s resignation, voiced by numerous opposition leaders, follow his on air threats to a popular talk show host followed days later by his conviction for hate speech. 

Simeonov is one of the leaders of the nationalist United Patriots, the junior coalition partner of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), and the recent scandals surrounding the minister have created the opportunity for the DPS and other opposition parties to up the pressure on the government. However, there is speculation that rather than seeking to oust Borissov’s government, the DPS’s move could be connected to Bulgaria’s troubled Dunarit arms factory. 

In Bulgarian politics the DPS punches above its weight. The moderately-sized but influential party is largely supported by ethnic Turks and Slavic Muslims. Even when outside government, the DPS has often played a role in king-making and is believed to have strong influence on Borissov. The party is strongly identified with controversial Bulgarian businessman and DPS MP Delyan Peevski, who is seen by many people as an eminence grise in Bulgarian politics. 

Back in 2013, an attempt to appoint Peevski as head of the national security body triggered mass protests against the government of Plamen Oresharski. The attempt was seen as symptomatic of the nepotism in Bulgarian politics and triggered street activism organised on social media.

While the party is now officially in opposition many analysts believe that unofficially it is well represented in the government and has significant influence on Borissov.

“I do not think that DPS would seriously engage in preterm end of the life of the cabinet Borissov 3,” Petar Cholakov, chief assistant at the Social Control, Deviation and Conflicts department at the Sofia-based Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge, told bne IntelliNews.

He added that most likely the DPS’ initiative is a political bluff aimed at bringing the party dividends. Although it is hardly to predict exactly what the DPS wants, a recent initiative by the party could give a hint.

On October 27, DPS leader Mutafa Karadayi said the party will send a letter to its European partners seeking support for its demand for Simeonov’s resignation. Unlike previous calls for Simeonov’s replacement, this time DPS said that if he refuses to quit the whole government must resign.

Formally, the DPS says it is calling for Simeonov’s resignation due to his recent public statements and the court verdict that the deputy prime minister is guilty of using hate speech. It is among several opposition parties who have made similar demands after the nationalist politician verbally threatened popular talk show host Viktor Nikolaev in a live studio discussion. Earlier in October, Jordan Tsonev, an MP from the DPS, announced that he was demanding the minister’s resignation as he was becoming "a symbol of hate speech". The opposition Socialist Party (BSP) is also demanding Simeonov’s resignation.

The same month, a court in the city of Burgas found Simeonov guilty of using hate speech against the ethnic minority Roma population, following a complaint filed by two Roma-national journalists. The case concerned Simeonov’s statement to the parliament in 2014.

Arms control

However, the day before the DPS’ latest call for Simeonov’s resignation, Peevski and two other party members tabled draft amendments to the banks insolvency law to the parliament, claiming that if adopted they would reveal who robbed Corporate Commercial Bank (Corpbank) which collapsed in 2014. 

After Corpbank’s bankruptcy, Dunarit, which was controlled by the bank was sold to EMCO, another arms producer, owned by businessman Emiliyan Gebrev, whose license to trade was taken away by the authorities in August. Gebelev and another two members of the board of the company have been charged with embezzlement and money laundering.

If the parliament approves the amendments to the banking law proposed by Peevski, Dunarit would be returned to Corpbank, and many speculate that this would help Peevski to subsequently gain control over the company.

Many analysts saw this move as an attempt by Peevski to gain control over Dunarit. “In fact, this draft law protects the interests of Peevski himself, which have been threatened in the case of Dunarit,” Cholakov said. He added that the other likely goal of the draft bill seems to be to clear Peevski’s image — the businessman and politician has previously been the target of rumours claiming that he set up the bank’s collapse, though he has denied this. 

“I would put the topic of the cabinet’s resignation exactly in this context. I would have asked rhetorically whether [the DPS] is demonstrating muscles to cool, for example, possible attempts of Borissov and GERB to put pressure on them, taking out of closet skeletons from the Corpbank case and other inconvenient topics,” Cholakov said.

Political cartel

Although the DPS is trying hard to persuade its supporters that it is in opposition to GERB due to the latter’s coalition with the United Patriots — a group of nationalist parties who combine anti-Turk sentiment with opposition to a long list of other groups including Arabs, gays and immigrants— the ethnic-Turk party is allegedly still part of a “political cartel”, Cholakov said.

The DPS supports some of the government’s most controversial judicial reforms, such as a GERB proposal for large financial bonuses for magistrates working on corruption cases, which has been included in a controversial draft anti-corruption law. The DPS explained that it is supporting the bonuses as this financial stimulus should prevent corruption among magistrates, but the proposal is opposed by many NGOs in Bulgaria.

At the same time, members of the current government are allegedly linked to the DPS, including Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov whose actions against Dunarit and Emko seemed to favour the DPS.

“I don’t think that the DPS will use all its political resource to remove Simeonov from the government. The ethnic party would have even less benefit from sinking the whole ship, because it is part of the crew,” Cholakov said.

The new, old ally

At the same time, another opposition party – Volya led by local businessman Vesselin Mareshki — seems willing to prove it is friendly to GERB, signalling that will back the government if necessary. Mareshki was hoping to become part of the ruling coalition after the general election in March. After Borissov picked the United Patriots as GERB’s coalition partner instead, tensions between GERB and Volya rose.

However, Volya’s leader recently said he would initiate a procedure to call a referendum on turning Bulgaria into a presidential republic – a move seen as a likely gesture to Borissov who is believed to have strong aspirations to the presidency should Bulgaria become a presidential republic.

“It is possible that with his idea to initiate referendum for presidential republic Mareshki wants to demonstrate again loyalty to GERB,” Cholakov said.

On the other hand, Mareshki’s statement could be an attempt to return to the public stage as the party remained silent during the recent political scandals related to the threats to Nikolaev and the appointment of relatives of GERB MPs to key positions. 

Whatever his goal is, Mareshki will more likely back Borissov when necessary, especially if GERB’s coalition with the United Patriots collapses at some point, meaning Borissov has a back-up plan should the nationalists be forced out. Whatever pressure the DPS brings to bear, the Borissov 3 cabinet looks stable for now.