Bulgaria’s ruling coalition on the rocks

Bulgaria’s ruling coalition on the rocks
Deputy PM Valeri Simeonov says he will step down if his campaign to have what he says are illegally constructed bars and restaurants on one of Bulgaria's most popular tourist beaches torn down are unsuccessful.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia June 12, 2018

Bulgaria’s ruling coalition has been destabilised further as Social Affairs Minister Bisser Petkov resigned on June 11 and Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov threatened that he could also quit. Both ministers are from Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s far-right junior coalition partner, the United Patriots, which has also been shaken by internal tensions. 

If the ruling coalition collapses, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov could chose to resign for the third time and provoke early elections rather than surviving by formally backed by his unofficial supporter in parliament, the ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS). Borissov has become known for submitting his resignation as head of the government, and, according to some analysts, he uses early elections as a tool to gain more seats in parliament and more independence from other political parties.

Simeonov, one of the leaders of the United Patriots, is in open conflict with Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova over the fate of five restaurants and bars on the south beach of the popular Sunny Beach resort. Simeonov claims that the buildings are illegal and must be demolished, while Angelkova has said they are legal.

Simeonov was quoted by Dnevnik as saying that he will either succeed in his actions against the illegal buildings at the sea resorts or will quit. His exit from government could shake the already unstable coalition.

Petkov tabled his resignation, which was immediately accepted by Borissov, over a completely separate issue. His decision to step down followed months of tensions between the government and parents of disabled children over the state’s social policy. On June 1, parents started open-ended protests over the issue. 

Petkov, who headed the state social insurance institute, was nominated for the post by the United Patriots. His resignation still has to be approved by parliament to take effect.

However, Petkov’s resignation failed to pacify the parents who have set up a tent camp next to the parliament’s building. They insist that, unless Petkov returns to the post “to finish his job”, they will seek the resignation of the whole government.

“Well, this is it. With each action Borissov shows that he wants no reforms anywhere,” Mihail Popov, one of the protesters, said in a post on a Facebook group established to help parents to organise shifts in the tent camp.

“One minister has saved himself from responsibility,” Diana Dimitrova said in a post on the same group.

Since the third Borissov government took office in 2017, there have been several protests by parents of children with disabilities, who object to the care system and have called for various reforms.

The reforms that they want include the compilation of a register of children and adults with disabilities, categorised by disability, as well as individual assessments of the needs of people with disabilities and appropriate treatments and therapies.

Petkov’s resignation is the third to be submitted to Borissov since he took office in May 2017. Nikolai Petrov stepped down in October 2017 as health minister, to be replaced by Kiril Ananiev.

In January 2018, Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova submitted her resignation over connections to the owner of a firm that was chosen by Czech energy company CEZ to buy its Bulgarian business in a highly controversial deal. Petkova’s resignation was not accepted.

Simeonov was quoted by daily Dnevnik as saying that this could be the "season of resignations".

The alliance between Borissov’s Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and the United Patriots raised questions from the start when they came to power for the first time in 2017. Aside from speculation they would force a shift to the far right by Bulgaria’s populist prime minister, there have also been growing concerns about the stability of the coalition between the three far-right and pro-Russian parties — Simeonov’s National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO) and Ataka. Simeonov has already said that most likely the coalition, which is internally unstable, will not survive until the next election.

Although Borissov is trying to seek a balance, he was forced several times to take decisions unpopular with the EU to please his coalition partner. For example, Bulgaria decided not to follow its fellow EU member states expel Russian diplomats upon the demand of the far-right coalition. Borissov also decided to withdraw from parliament the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty intended to combat violence against women, which it had tabled for ratification at the beginning of the year, to preserve the stability of the ruling coalition.

Meanwhile, Simeonov is trying to put pressure on Gerb to pass his legislation related to advertisement of gambling and a partial return of smoking in restaurants. So far, Gerb has said that will back partially the gambling law, but will reverse the smoking ban.