Impeachable credentials

By bne IntelliNews March 15, 2010

Nicholas Watson in Sofia -

The offices of the Bulgarian prime minister may be just across the road from those of the president in Sofia, but a metaphorical chasm has opened up between the two institutions as the ruling GERB party insists it will press on with a plan to impeach President Georgi Parvanov.

Like the joke that has terrible consequences in the book of the same name by Milan Kundera set in communist Czechoslovakia, the political crisis in Bulgaria has its roots in an off-the-cuff witty remark made by Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov on a TV chat show on March 1. Asked whether it was true that Parvanov was a young billionaire, Dyankov said with a smile, "he's definitely not young."

Parvanov, a former member of the Communist Party who has been in office since 2002, was reportedly outraged and, sensitive to accusations that have dogged him over the years about his personal finances, summoned Dyankov to his offices across the street on March 5 in what was billed to the media as a meeting for Dyankov to clear up the "misunderstanding."

After the meeting, Dyankov refused to comment on the specifics of what was discussed, saying only that the meeting had been "constructive;" Parvanov published a transcript of the 30-minute meeting on the presidential website, clearly showing that the meeting, at which Parvanov demanded Dyankov apologise for his remarks, had been taped.

Dyankov claims he had not been informed the meeting was being recorded which, according to the GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) party, is a violation of article 32 of the Bulgarian constitution that says, "no one shall be followed, photographed, filmed, recorded or subjected to any other similar activity without his knowledge or despite his express disapproval, except when such actions are permitted by law."

Subsequently, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said on March 13 that the ruling GERB party would start collecting signatures in parliament to initiate impeachment procedures. A motion to start a debate in parliament on impeaching the president needs to be supported by a minimum of 60 out of 240 MPs; to approve the motion and send it to the Constitutional Court, the ruling majority would need 161 votes. GERB has 117 MPs. The ultra-nationalist Ataka and the right-wing Blue Coalition, who have already said they would support the motion, have a total of 35 MPs. Ever the canny politician, Prime Minister and GERB leader Boyko Borisov has said he is against it, but has to comply with his party's decision - this way he will get the benefits from any successful prosecution (analysts here say no better than 50/50) without getting his hands dirty.

Old guard

For his part, the president calls the grounds for the impeachment proceedings ridiculous. "I don't accept the notion that Dyankov did not know that our conversation was being transcribed," Parvanov told reporters. "Everyone who comes to talk to me in this building and in this room presses a button, not because speakers must be turned on, but because his words must recorded. This has been the practice for the past 20 years, and until now no one has been surprised by it."

While analysts say there are indeed questions about the legality of the president's office regarding the publication of the transcripts, that's not what this dispute is really about. Rather, it's part of an ongoing battle between the old guard (Parvanov) and the new kids on the block (GERB), who blame the former for Bulgaria's years of corruption and current economic malaise, and want to sweep them out of the way. When PM Borisov swept to power in 2009 playing on his image as a hard man determined to root out corruption, which was so bad that the European Commission had stopped providing EU money until the country made inroads into the problem, many saw this "witch hunt" affecting predominantly those close to the ousted, former senior ruling party the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), and especially its leader and ex-prime minister Sergei Stanishev (2005-09). Parvanov left the BSP after he had been elected president, as the president is not allowed to be a political party member.

"The furore highlights the great animosity between the beleaguered, centre-right GERB party and the defiant President Parvanov," say analysts at IHS Global Insight. "Parvanov is considered part of the 'old elite'. Parvanov is allegedly not whiter than white either, with accusations of accepting bribes from businessmen tainting his image."

All this makes for great theatre, but the biggest loser will inevitably be the Bulgarian economy and thus the ordinary person; the president ratifies laws passed by parliament, many of which currently centre on the fight against corruption and economic and tax reform measures needed to get Bulgaria's economy off the ground again, says Global Insight.

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