DW: Saving Private Borissov and Other Stories

Elections | February 5, 2021, Friday // 10:52|  views

People tend to romanticize their failures. Take, for example, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. In his career, he reached a point where 60% of the Bulgarians - both left- and right-leaning, and even some of his EPP European partners - were convinced it was time for him to step down. And for real, not like in some political theater, pretend to leave but in fact stay and pull the strings of its puppets. Nightstand drawers with wads of cash, wiretapped calls, hundreds of millions in gambling losses, accusations of bribery, and so on, his escapades have become too many. In a normal situation, they would make it impossible to whitewash any former nation’s favorite.

Instead of a sober analysis, however, the government’s romantic interpretation of the election landscape sounds like this: a "Fatherland Front" has risen against Borissov and he will become its innocent victim. Just like Bulgaria fell victim to Stalin's communism in the 1940s.

This romantic interpretation is actually a variation on a familiar theme: GERB protects us from Putinism and communism.

The paradox is that the otherwise intelligent people also rise to this absurd bait without worrying about the huge logical hole gaps in it. And here we are not talking about some petty banter, such as the fact that biographically Borisov (and most in GERB's elite) is no less connected to the communist past than any rank-and-file member of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).

Nor that, in keeping us from Putinism, GERB managed to build the (Russian)Turkish Stream pipeline in record time, took the Russian side on the "Skripal" case, allowed clandestine operations of the Russian services in the "Gebrev" case, etc. (It is true that with Radev, besides all this, we would have purchased Gripen aircraft and would have kept quiet about Navalny. But the difference looks rather quantitative than qualitative.)

The real problem is different. Currently GERB is not a party that can set Bulgaria's agenda on its own. It is not only its leader (and it is a leader’s party) who suffers from severe reputational problems - according to the latest Market Links survey, the credit rating of GERB is 17.3%. BSP, the second largest party in the country, has even less public support -15.3%. In other words: the two supposedly major parties garner support of only about a third of the people. In such a fragmented environment, any possible government that aspires to democratic legitimacy will resemble a "Fatherland Front", because it will be made up of many and very different parties.

And here comes an interesting caveat, to which many turn a blind eye. GERB are opponents of the "Fatherland Front", but they themselves do not mind a grand coalition with BSP. Many of their supporters even see this as the only possible solution after the spring elections. That is, "Fatherland Front" with BSP is OK, but only if GERB is inside.

The second logical hole gap in the “Fatherland Front” metaphor is that it implies the ideological left or right coherency of the parties. The "conservative socialists" of BSP are already out of the question. But GERB itself also has its own genesis, not so much as left or right, but as a populist anti-corruption formation. And over the years, its ideological profile has remained ambivalent. Borissov is both a liberal and a conservative and sometimes a socialist.

Actually he is above these things and cautiously distances himself from them. His party is "for European Development", but he can run for elections with the Patriots, who in the European Parliament side with the Eurosceptics (and Volen Siderov is straight from the Eurasian Union). The Prime Minister's proverbial prevarications regarding Russia were mentioned above. And, in the face of the Covid crisis, Borissov also adopted a "socially oriented budget", mimicking most governments around the world.

After all, in fact, GERB itself represents a large and ideologically motley Fatherland Front ( mysteriously existing in the head of GERB leader). And it is no surprise that GERB opposition is just as motley.

Having in mind all these complications, April's parliamentary elections should not be romanticized as a struggle of a hero persona with "Fatherland Front." The following things are known about this election by now:

1. If current trends are maintained, there will be a highly fragmented parliament with many new factions, and some of them, such as Slavi Trifonov's party, are absolutely unpredictable;

2. Neither party will be dominant in setting the country's agenda on its own;

3. There will be grounds for forming a government: mitigating the consequences of the Covid crisis; planning and implementation of the EU recovery package, which is a great opportunity for the modernization of the country; the rule of law, etc.;

4. A government will most likely be formed;

5. Each party in government will have to comply with the agenda of others and take heed of their red lines;

6. The governance program will be the a cross between the key positive priorities and important red lines of the new parliament members.

From this point of view, governance model after parliamentary elections will be a derivative of a combination and (partial) compromise between the parties on the following topics:

  • GERB

Priorities: Maintaining power positions and the governance model; European funding; euro area; pro-European policy (with exceptions such as the "North Macedonia theme ").

Red lines: Objective and thorough investigation of the Borissov model and the scandals involving the government.

  •  BSP

 Priorities: Relatively small changes in public finances (taxes and social expenditures); nationalisation of the health system; reform of the Prosecutor's Office.

Red lines: Criticism of Putinism; termination of projects such as Belene NPP.

  • MRF

Priorities: EU funds; green policy; protection of the individuals and minorities rights

Red lines: Ivan Geshev and reform of the Prosecutor's Office; probes into the Movement‘s economic empire.

  • Democratic Bulgaria

Priorities: Pro-European, modernization policies.

Red lines: Giving up investigation of the "Borisov model "; dumping judicial reform; veering off the country's Euro-Atlantic course (Euro area, but not only.)

  • Slavi Trifonov (There Is Such a People)

Priorities: Change of the electoral system and subsidies of the parties; a one-off claim for a pro-European and pro-EU course.

Red lines: ?

  •  Maya Manolova & Poisonous Trio

Priorities: Anti-corruption policies, rule of law.

Red lines: Givin up investigation of the "Borisov model " and judicial reform.

  •   United Patriots

Priorities: Isolated social policies: pensions, social benefits, etc.; strategy for 'Gypsies' and refugees.

Red lines: Istanbul Convention, so-called “genders”, NGOs, North Macedonia.

A few caveats have to be entered here. The “red lines” of some of the parties are pure fantasies - especially those of the Patriots. (Fantasies, however, can also garner votes.) For other parties, red lines have proved to be quite flexible over the years, easy to cross and even interchangeable. For yet others , like Slavi Trifonov's party - not much is known. He has already stated that he will not coalesce with GERB and BSP, but has yet to clarify his positions meaningfully.

Many say that the mathematical problem based on the combinations of priorities and red lines has no solution and therefore new parliamentary elections will be needed after those in April. In fact, the problem may have too many solutions, even though each of them depends on compromises.

The important thing is that people do not lose orientation in this fragmentated environment - and not be confused by misleading metaphors such as "Fatherland Front" or  “saving private Borissov, who protects us from communism". After all, parliamentary elections are not a football match between parties, nor are they a function solely of the career ambitions and fears of their party leaders.

After all, parliamentary elections are also an opportunity to solve the problems of the country: modernization, digitalization, catching up with the rest of the EU, restoring the rule of law. The fragmentation of parliamentary representation, which generally carries its risks, paradoxically may prove to be a chance for the ego of this or that leader to give way to the public agenda./Daniel Smilov, DW




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Tags: Bulgaria, Boyko Borissov, elections


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