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Bulgaria - Politics

EU criticism of Bulgaria's democratic credentials has kept the country outside the bloc's Schengen Area for visa-free travel since it joined in 2007.

The 1990s saw constant public unrest and a series of shaky coalition governments and grave economic crises, as Bulgaria attempted to establish a free-enterprise system. The period of the years from 1990 to 1997 was characterized by the dominating role of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) in Bulgarian politics. During this period, every successive Bulgarian government, without exception, was engaged in a dangerous game of “pretending to reform” while actually not reforming. This poker game led the country to the brink of state failure. Bulgaria became the worst managed country in Europe.

"There is a conspiracy to shatter the government, and its main targets are the legitimately elected prime minister, Supreme Judicial Council and prosecutor general," Yassen Todorov, Chairman of the Ethics Commission in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), told bTV on 17 January 2016, as quoted by "24 Chassa." "Certain circles and certain individuals have been singing like a choir against the SJC and the prosecutor general. The principal target in this conspiracy is the prime minister," Todorov went on to say. He noted that the last recording in the "Yaneva-gate" saga was targeted directly against Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, although Borissov had not been named explicitly so far.

"Monitor" wrote 17 January 2016 about a plot to bring down the cabinet of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov by the end of 2016. This is to be accomplished through the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria party, the Green Party, the Protest Network and people who have defected from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, led by Lyutvi Mestan. The disclosure was made by Ivo Prokopiev, an "energy oligarch and boss of the Capital circle." The "Monitor" story is based on a report by PIK.bg.

On 27 January 2016 the Eurpean Commission issued its latest report on steps taken by Bulgaria on judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime, in the context of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). In 2015 Bulgaria took some important steps to put reform back on the agenda, following a period of political instability which appeared to be stalling progress. The two national strategies on judicial reform and the fight against corruption represent a detailed blueprint for action. It is clear, however, that the translation of these strategies into concrete and tangible progress would be a major challenge for 2016.

Minister of Education and Science Todor Tanev of the Reformist Bloc [RB] was asked to resign on 29 January 2016, following a row over planned changes to history books, which critics felt demeaned the national struggle for independence. The trigger for was new proposed terms explaining the period of Ottoman Turkish rule over Bulgaria, which lasted from 1396 to 1878. Educational experts were accused of insulting national history by proposing to change the familiar terms “domination” and “slavery” in reference to the Ottoman to milder terms referring to coexistence between the Bulgarian and Turkish peoples. Although the ministry insisted that no such changes were actually foreseen in the history books, it was already too late to calm the dispute. Parliament narrowly voted 03 February 2016 to appoint the Deputy Prime Minister, Meglena Kuneva, from the RB, as the new Education Minister.

Nayden Zelenogorski, co-president of the Reformist Bloc, RB, a minority partner in the coalition, which is led by the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB, of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, warned 11 February 2016 that if parliament again rejected a new anti-corruption law, it may withdraw from the coalition. This would likely prompt early elections.

Borisov's state finances are legitimate and Bulgaria has accepted mandatory quotas for the allocation of refugees throughout Europe, unlike the Visegrad Group consisting of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Borisov has even urged other central and eastern European countries to show more solidarity in refugee matters. With the help of EU funds, he is able to play the part of a generous father figure who treats his children to new highways or subway stations almost every day. He also exerts influence on media outlets that depend on EU funded projects or advertising campaigns. No wonder Bulgarians are served "Boiko for breakfast" on several TV channels - simultaneously and almost always live from a studio - many Bulgarians quip.

Borisov also supported EU sanctions against Moscow, even though the Bulgarian population is extremely pro-Russian. He even rejected the Russian pipeline project South Stream, which would have been lucrative for Bulgaria, to please Brussels. The center-right government of Boiko Borisov secured economic growth and cut unemployment to an eight-year low while cutting the fiscal deficit, but its failure to tackle endemic graft in the EU’s poorest country frustrated voters.

Boyko Borisov, the outgoing Prime Minister, had been a dominant figure in Bulgarian politics since the mid-2000s. With the election of Radev for President, this may be changing. Support for his GERB party (and him, given his larger-than-life presence in the party) was 39.7% in the 2009 general election. It fell to 30.5% in 2013's snap vote and went slightly up, to 32.7%, in yet another early poll in 2014, as he had been in opposition amid anti-government protests. When he tried to “rule by proxy”, by installing a “motherly” president that is strongly tied to the party and counting only on his authority to win, the blow he sustained left him bitterly disappointed. In the first round, Tsetska Tsacheva got 22% - a nightmare for Borisov, who had done his best to pretend Bulgaria was voting for Parliament and not for President.

Borisov had vowed to quit if his candidate, Tsetska Tsacheva, lost the election. The government stepped down November 13, 2016, following the presidential election results which determined socialist opposition-backed Rumen Radev as Bulgaria's next President-elect. The center-right government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov would stay in office until a new interim government was appointed.

During his five-year term, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev had appointed two caretaker administrations. Plevneliev declined to appoint his own interim cabinet after the elected government resigned in November 2016. Instead, Plevneliev said 21 December 2016 that he would approve any caretaker administration proposed by his successor, President-elect Rumen Radev. "I propose to appoint the interim government of President Radev. Moreover, Mr Radev has announced he is ready with his interim government."

Radev assumed office on 22 January 2017. It would be under his tenure that an interim government would be able to organize the next early election as the outgoing president does not have the right to dissolve the chamber or call snap elections. Radev, however, would also be able to dismiss the cabinet appointed by Plevneliev and form one on his own.

Bulgarian multimillionaire Delyan Peevski's New Bulgarian Media Group holds stakes in six newspapers that account for a combined 80 percent or so of print distribution in the country and controls many other websites and information outlets. His wealth and status as a member of the National Assembly since 2009 have raised eyebrows in a country often chided for its close links between politicians and businessmen. Reporters Without Borders (RSF), for example, ranks Bulgaria as the worst European Union member in terms of media freedom.

"Corruption and collusion between media, politicians and oligarchs is widespread in Bulgaria. The most notorious embodiment of this aberrant state of affairs is Delyan Peevski," the media watchdog wrote in its world media freedom index report for 2018. Peevski was investigated in 2018 and cleared by Bulgaria's anticorruption agency, which said that audits of his business affairs dating as far back as 2003 uncovered no illegal activities.





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