Connect to share and comment

Shaky start for Bulgaria's new government

PlacardEnlarge
(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Bulgaria's Socialist-backed government is under severe pressure to resign after just two weeks in office following several days of demonstrations in the EU's poorest country.

The latest protests began on Friday when Delyan Peevski, an inexperienced but well-connected 32-year-old media mogul, was named head of the powerful state agency for national security DANS.

For the thousands of protesters, the appointment showed that Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski is controlled by the same old shady and powerful oligarchs behind the scenes.

Peevski runs what is one of Bulgaria's major media groups and is also a deputy with the Turkish minority MRF party, a key supporter of Oresharki's government. But he has no experience in the security sector.

Rocked by the reaction, Oresharski immediately promised to have Peevski's appointment cancelled by parliament. But the damage was done: on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, more, even bigger demonstrations took place.

"We are protesting against the oligarchy, which humiliated the people once again, promoting its latest protege," one group of demonstrators said on a Facebook page.

Oresharski, a non-partisan former finance minister, was appointed as a safe pair of hands by the Socialists after forming a government following elections in May. By Monday, his critics were deriding him as "Oligarski" and calling on him to resign.

President Rosen Plevneliev has withdrawn his support from Oresharski's cabinet and called a consultative council on national security for Thursday.

Oresharski however has so far refused to quit. To do so, he said Monday, would be "dangerous" for Bulgaria, where several sectors of the economy are already on the brink of collapse.

"The resignation will not solve anything," Oresharski told private bTV television. "Let's take a sober view of things."

The situation is reminiscent of February, when nationwide protests against rampant poverty and corruption prompted right-wing prime minister Boyko Borisov to throw in the towel.

Subsequent elections last month saw Borisov's GERB party come first, but well short of a majority.

The second-placed socialists managed to form a government with backing from the Turkish minority party MRF -- to which Peevski belongs.

With more and more prominent public figures joining the latest protests outside government headquarters in Sofia, many analysts think Oresharski's days as prime minister are numbered.

"I think about this government in the past tense already," political analyst Evgeniy Daynov said.

"Bulgaria is entering a serious political crisis," said another analyst, Tsvetozar Tomov. "This government made a blunder after which it is only normal that the premier must quit.

"Even if it manages to cling to power in the coming months, this is its symbolic end even before starting to work," agreed Stefan Popov from RiskMonitor.

But analysts agree that fresh elections might result in political stalemate, exacerbate street tensions and deepen the economic and social crisis in the former communist country.

"The worst scenario is: the government falls, new elections and (Borisov's party) GERB comes back triumphant," Daynov said.

An alternative, Tomov said, would be avoiding a new election by trying to form another non-partisan cabinet if Oresharski resigns.

This would make time to pass a bill reforming the electoral code so new, small parties can enter the legislature, as the protesters demand.

MRF party leader Lyutvi Mestan has already said he will start work on that bill on Tuesday.

But all eyes remain fixed on Oresharski, who was due to hold consultations in the coming days over who should become the new security chief in Peevski's place.

On Monday, 23 prominent think-tanks that had protested Peevski's appointment refused to join those talks, weakening him still further.

Brussels, which has long taken Bulgaria to task over its failure to tackle corruption since joining the European Union in 2007, said on Monday that Peevski's appointment "illustrates the need for reform".

European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said that Brussels expected "that the person finally appointed will meet the necessary quality and integrity conditions."

Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso "will convey this message" to Oresharski when they meet on Friday in Brussels, Bailly added -- assuming Oresharski is still in office.

ds/stu/jj

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130618/shaky-start-bulgarias-new-government