Bulgaria's Boyko Borisov Facing Huge Test as 'Political Animal'

Opinions |Author: Angel Petrov | October 12, 2014, Sunday // 22:46|  views

Photo by BGNES

Renowned Greek philosopher Aristotle has described the human species as a "political animal" (zoon politikon).

But, to paraphrase an iconic book by George Orwell, some people are more of a "political animal" than others, since they opt for other levels of social interactions.

With all his flaws and what many describe as his "murky" past (others also use the same word for his present and future), Boyko Borisov is an excellent example.

An astute politician enjoying an exceptional combination of popularity and controversy, he performed generally well at all of his major offices - that of late ex-dictator Todor Zhivkov's bodyguard, of the Interior Ministry's Chief Secretary, and also of Sofia Mayor.

How he did as Prime Minister between 2009 and 2013 is still a subject of heated discussions. It was his government that rushed most of the recent austerity through Bulgaria's economy, that critics say put huge pressure on small and medium enterprises, and, eventually, prompted large-scale protests by raising electricity prices, leading to its own resignation.

It was, however, also his cabinet that conveyed the image of Bulgaria as a country of fiscal stability and attempts at tackling (at least part of) organized crime gangs.

The legacy of that cabinet will take years to figure and answers will have to wait especially now, when he is poised to head the government for a second time. Sunday's victory has actually been a third consecutive success in a general election, out of three total attempts since he set up his GERB party in 2006. He failed to become Prime Minister last year despite having won, and had to learn to be in opposition. Most attempts at that looked na?ve from a political view, as his parliamentary group used to leave the plenary hall in Parliament virtually every time a sensible debate was on the brink of happening.

Then he sought to use the same approach of which he accused his "political opponents" in February when rallies toppled down his cabinet, trying to spearhead both the anti-Peevski (and "anti-Oresharski") protests in the summer and the student movement in October 2013.

Judging by his inability to have his name connected to either a serious opposition movement or the protest wave, he utterly failed: opinion polls usually show he GERB is associated with the "old", corrupt political elite, even though it is still a relatively new party.

Nevertheless, two things about Borisov remain impressive as of today: first, that he won the vote again despite this failure; second, that he keeps "trying".

As the first exit poll results of the October 5 early elections were officially released, the center-right leader did not look fascinated: such record leaves his hands tied. "I will hand the mandate back," he told reporters on Sunday night, threatening elections were looming around Christmas. He admitted he could not imagine negotiating with such a number of parties.

Just a day after even house flies knew he had won, he was ready to fight. GERB first reiterated an old trick: the idea of a minority government, one that was applied back in 2009 and one that raised eyebrows then as well as now. The conservatives also fell short of a majority in that year and formed a minority cabinet only formally supported by other parties within the National Assembly. All decisions in the next nearly four years were, also formally, solely GERB's responsibility.

After studying the mood among the remaining seven parties, Borisov suddenly took a U-turn, calling the minority cabinet a "very difficult" option, insisting he would not give other parties the opportunity to merely back a government without participating.

At a first glance it looks like a decent example of a usual incoherence observed in his actions and positions on a number of issues.

At the same time Borisov seems to have suddenly realized shared responsibility should be the key point of a government about to be formed in such an unexpected parliamentary situation and also in times of economic trouble when the prospect of a bright future looks increasingly slim. A minority government would have been disastrous for his party and convenient for others, given that GERB gained 33 MP seats less than in 2009, when it was just four seats short of a majority. 

If Borisov manages to forge a stable coalition and to balance between different interests - his latest challenge - he will suddenly become not just an excellent instance of a "political animal", but even one that in theory would fit tight in a university book seeking to explain the term. After all, prior to putting through any policies, the ones in governance need that feature to survive in Bulgaria, and elsewhere as well.


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Tags: Boyko Borisov, GERB, Todor Zhivkov, minority government, early elections


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