Bulgarians protest for one month - roundup

By bne IntelliNews July 12, 2013

Thousands of protesters have been rallying the streets of Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia for already 28 days in a row. They are demanding the resignation of the new socialist-led government elected just over a month ago. The protests began on June 14, sparked by the controversial appointment of Delyan Peevski (local media mogul suspected to have ties with the criminal underworld) as head of the national security agency. Public discontent eventually led to his removal from the position but the protests have continued, with some 10,000 people on average demonstrating in Sofia every day for close to a month now.

What Are Protesters’ Demands

Protesters do not simply want a new government. They demand a larger reform that will bring greater transparency to Bulgarian politics, which the public in Bulgaria largely considers to be fraught with corruption. In fact, the results of a recent Transparency International survey showed that 76% of Bulgarians think political parties are corrupt and 64% believe the same for public officials and civil servants. Demonstrators demand election code amendments that will enhance representation and limit the access of controversial people to power.

Political Affiliations of the Protesters

The large majority of the current protestors appear to hold rightist political views. The protestors are mostly young people who believe in a fiscally-conservative government with a small role in the economy. They were left without a representation in the parliament after the snap election in May as no right-wing party was able to win enough votes to overcome the 4% threshold. Voters had doubts about the authenticity of the right-wing parties and their adherence to principles as Bulgaria's conservative political movement failed to form a union in fights over leadership.

Following the outburst of the protests, a right-wing Reformist Block has been announced, comprising Meglena Kuneva’s Movement Bulgaria for the Citizens (BFC), DSB, The Greens, Edinstvo and Freedom and Dignity People's Party.

The Reaction of the Government

The government has so far declined to resign, claiming that such a move would further destabilise the country. PM Plamen Oresharski has said that he will step down only when he feels he is not doing his job well, while Sergey Stanishev - the leader of the senior ruling partner BSP, has declared the government will resign if there is a deadlock in the parliament. 

BSP relies on ethnic Turkish MRF and radical Ataka for parliamentary support, as former ruling party CEDB remained in opposition. In addition, centre-right CEDB has decided to boycott the assembly's meetings, thus enhancing the role Ataka plays in the legislature. MRF is a long-time partner of BSP but the two parties have only 120 legislature seats in total, one short of the 121 required for quorum. Accordingly, they count on the attendance of Ataka MPs.

The Reaction of International Partners

Meanwhile, the European Commission has stated that the demonstrations that followed the appointment of Peevski show that the Bulgarian society is concerned about the rule of law and emphasise the need for policy that will restore the citizens' trust in Bulgarian institutions. In that context, the President of the EC, Jose Manuel Barroso, told a press conference after a meeting with PM Oresharski that the Commission will continue to monitor Bulgaria's progress in the areas of judicial reform, fight against corruption and organised crime.

Furthermore, the Ambassadors of Germany and France to Bulgaria, Matthias Hoepfner and Philippe Autie, said in a joint statement that the oligarchic rule is incompatible with the public interest and urged for higher transparency in the government. They also praised Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev for his stance and his defence of the rule of law.

The Stance of the President

In a special address to the nation, broadcasted on July 5, the President criticised the government for failing to respond to protesters' concerns over cronyism and corruption in the cabinet. He also said that calling a new early election is the only democratic way out of the ongoing political crisis.

What Comes Next

It is unlikely that the government will resign in the coming months through the end of the summer. However, we consider that the chances of that happening will increase in the winter due to several reasons:

  • The Oresharski cabinet will have to deal with the discontent of several groups:
    • the miners to whom it has promised to raise the price of coal,
    • the business sector, which will likely face higher electricity price because of a controversial energy law the government passed in June and due to the potentially higher coal price,
    • the agricultural producers, who demand to receive a EUR 560mn subsidy by the end of 2013,
    • the trade unions. Bulgaria's two largest trade unions - Podkrepa and CITUB, have threatened with national strikes; Podkrepa calls for grand national assembly, while CITUB demands early elections before the end of the year.
  • The anti-government protests are likely to become more massive and insistent when the holiday season is over. Protest in the autumn/winter may further be triggered by the higher household utility bills during the season.
  • In addition, the EC will publish its next progress report on Bulgaria at the end of the year, which will focus on corruption in the country. Given the controversial appointments at high posts that were made by the cabinet and the subsequent firm reaction of the EC we anticipate a less positive report which will potentially give protesters an international confirmation of their suspicions.

What Happened At the May Snap Elections

Former ruling party CEDB resigned in February following mass protests over high electricity prices, monopolies and low wages. In the May snap elections four parties entered the parliament: CEDB, BSP, MRF and Ataka. The outgoing-government’s CEDB, which fell short of a majority win, could not form a coalition with any of the other three parties and was left in isolation. Eventually, BSP's nomination for PM, Plamen Oresharski proposed a cabinet, which was approved by the parliament at end-May with the support of MPs from MRF and Ataka. A significant amount of the Bulgarian electorate was left without a parliamentary representation as the voter turnout stood at around 50%, while the ruling coalition (BSP, MRF, Ataka) had only half of the votes.

Who Would Bulgarians Vote For If Elections Were Held Today

Latest poll by Gallup International, published on July 11, showed that if elections were held on that day, the former ruling party, CEDB, would get 17.8% of the vote compared to 18.4% in June and 24% in May. The poll also showed that the support for BSP fell to 21.6% in July - down by 1.9 pps m/m and 2 pps compared to May. MRF had 6.7% of the vote in July, down from 7.6% in June and 7.1% in May. Support for Ataka, dropped from 3.6% in May to only 1.8% in the current month.

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