Sophia, divided and sceptical, goes to the polls

The political crisis, the controversial South Stream gas pipeline and the tycoon war

Last week, the President of the Bulgarian Republic Rossen Plevneliev announced that the parties of the present parliament agreed to hold early elections next fall, only one year since the new legislature. Consultations between political forces will begin on June 27. They are called to decide the date of the early elections along with the parliament’s priorities until the next election, and propose a European Commissioner representing Bulgaria. The political crisis broke out after the European election, although it was fomented by arguments over the controversial South Stream pipeline and by an open conflict between the Country’s two major tycoons. To get a picture of the situation, Iva Mihailova, for SIR Europe, interviewed Boris Popivanov, Professor of Political Science at Sophia University. Professor, how has this situation come about? “After the European election it became clear that the present government wouldn’t have reached the end of its mandate. The Socialist Party (BSP), the major force in the government coalition, gained only 19% of all votes, while the right-wing party at the opposition (GERB) gained 30%. The Turkish minority movement (DPS), until now a partner of the socialist party in government, gained 18%. At this point, the Turkish minority party withdrew its support to Premier Oresharski’s government”. According to analysts, relations between the socialists and the Turkish minority party deteriorated because of disagreements over the controversial South Stream pipeline. What’s your opinion? “Indeed, after the infringement procedure opened by the European Commission against Bulgaria for favouring certain companies in tenders for the construction of the project, the Socialists wanted to continue with the work despite the objections of Brussels, while the party of the Turks was unwilling to do so. On June 8 the Prime Minister announced that Bulgaria would interrupt the works for the pipeline until an agreement with Brussels was reached. There was also the possibility that European funded projects would be blocked for this reason. However, in the meantime, the President of Gazprom, Aleksey Miller, said he did not receive an official request to freeze construction works by the Bulgarian government”. Another element of the political crisis is the situation of the Corporate Commercial bank, placed under the surveillance of Bulgaria’s National Bank because of reduced liquidity. “The problem of the Corporate Bank is linked to the political situation. Its major shareholder, Tsvetan Vassilev, linked to various political environments, sparked off an open war involving the media and the judiciary against his recent partner, another controversial figure, Delyan Peevski, MP in the DPS party and media tycoon. As a result of the pressure placed by Peevski on subsidiary companies that were also customers of the bank, they decided to withdraw the money”. Precisely one year ago, people took the streets of Bulgaria to protest against Peevski’s appointment at the head of the secret services, and against the ties of organized crime and the political realm. The situation today doesn’t seem to be very different… “People continue to mistrust politicians and their true willingness to represent the will of the population. Even the present government has failed to change the situation of corruption in Bulgarian economy and politics. The judicial system is flawed while small and medium enterprises experience difficulties. Even the national budget this year has preserved a situation of balance, but it has not favoured the economy”. At a time of political instability, what’s the social and economic situation in the Country? “The crisis in Ukraine had a negative impact on Bulgarian economy. Trade with Russia that passed by Ukraine has been interrupted. This summer Ukrainian tourists will not visit the Black Sea and there will be less Russian tourists too. Low birth rates are coupled by the migration of young professionals. In some areas towns are completely depopulated. And political instability only makes things worse”.

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