The first non-confidence vote against the third cabinet of Boyko Borissov will be rejected on Thursday (25 January). The main political forces used the parliamentary debate on Tuesday to exchange accusations of corruption. Krassen Nikolov reports from Sofia.
Krassen Nikolov is a journalist specialised in judiciary affairs. He works for Mediapool and will be a regular contributor for BulgarianPresidency.eu for the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The great absent during the debate in the National Assembly was Borissov, who skipped the democratic exercise with the excuse of having “international commitments”.
The no-confidence vote was filed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) in the early days of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. The official motive was the failure of the government to fight corruption.
Only BSP and the mainly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which together have 105 MPs in the 240-seat parliament, will vote against the coalition government of GERB and the nationalist coalition “United patriots”.
The debate was held against the background of the recent anti-corruption law, but also of many new corruption scandals and a contract murder.
Borissov chose to meet with Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Anatoly Makarov, instead of attending parliament for the debates. BSP called the prime minister a “coward” because of his absence.
“Borissov’s absence speaks volumes and is a confession of guilt for corruption,” BSP leader Kornelia Ninova said. According to her, Borissov’s absence is a recognition that the government does not intend to fight corruption.
The BSP submitted the vote and supported it with examples of four major corruption scandals. One was the repairs of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, where a large part of the events of the Bulgarian presidency of the EU takes place. The former manager of the building is being investigated for allegedly having spent illegally €900,000 euros. The second scandal concerns GERB MP Zhivko Martinov, who is accused of blackmailing a businessman. A little later, another scandal unfolded with another GERB MP, Delyan Dobrev, who admitted that he had helped his relatives get hefty jobs in the local government of his hometown of Haskovo. Some of his relatives also proved to be among those who benefitted the most from a government program of €1.05 billion to renovate the old panel housing buildings. Dobrev is a former Minister of Energy and is accused of illegal actions related to the construction project of the Belene nuclear power plant. He is still a deputy. The fourth issue were alleged irregularities related to the border fence with Turkey.
One more huge scandal broke out just before the vote. A report by the State Agency for National Security (DANS) found that during five years Bulgarian customs have been working with a software that can be easily manipulated. Allegedly, hundreds of millions worth of excise goods can be deleted from the system without a trace. At the beginning of the year, there was also the contract murder of the influential businessman Petar Hristov, who was close to GERB. From a month in Sofia word is out about scandalous corruption related to the reception of children in the municipal kindergartens.
As expected, the parliamentary debate did not answer how the government or the opposition can deal with the wide-spread corruption in the poorest EU country. Nobody mentioned the much needed reform of the court and the prosecution, for which the European Commission had been appealing during the last 11 years.
The debate took the form of an exchange of accusations of corruption and insults. BSP accused the government of being corrupt, and the government replied that BSP is also corrupt.
“Obedience and silence are being bought. If you do not want to be bought – they beat you. They evolve, they modernise, because the world is modernising. Do you remember how Boyko Borissov was managing the customs a few years ago? Simply – over the phone Nowadays, in a direct and modern way, they manipulates the electronic system of the customs “, said Kornelia Ninova, who turned to the Bulgarian citizens, saying that this no-confidence vote was for them.
“Dear Bulgarians, you will hear from the rostrum a sentence that should never be uttered in a democratic country, member of the EU. The sentence will be “BSP has no right to talk about corruption”. No, it has the right, because these 80 socialists MPs represent one million Bulgarians. You cannot tell one million Bulgarians: “You will not talk”, Ninova said even before GERB fired their accusations. She also made reference to opinion polls according to which 83% of the Bulgarians say there is corruption in the country.
In the absence of Borissov, the government’s position was mostly defended by his deputy in GERB Tsvetan Tsvetanov and some of the ministers. Tsvetanov said that Bulgaria was now much better off than under the BSP governance, as in his words “European leaders are now coming to Sofia”. Despite the enormous scandal in customs, Tsvetanov pointed out that during the administration of GERB smuggling quickly diminished.
“You say that Bulgaria has 83% corruption, but during your management it was 96%, which you forgot to mention. Dear colleagues, when you want to badmouth the country, please take into account what is the efforts that are being made and the results in the fight against organised crime, “Tsvetanov said. GERB’s thesis is that BSP is casting the vote to wreck the Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU.
GERB MP Lachezar Ivanov made a historic review to illustrate his thesis that the genesis of corruption corruption was created by the BSP’s patrons after the fall of communism. “You, Mrs Ninova, are an example of how people like you gets rich”, Ivanov said. Ninova is accused by GERB of having benefitted from privatisation as head of one of the formerly state-owned big companies, Tehnoimpex. She denies the charges.
Ivanov added: “The strength of our party is in the leader Boyko Borissov, who without fear reveals all corruption schemes and passes them to the prosecutor’s office”.
Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva said that there was political will in Bulgaria to fight corruption and pointed out the adopted anti-corruption law. She also said that Eurobarometer surveys show that many there is corruption in many other European countries.
The other opposition force DPS said it would support the vote of mistrust, but criticized BSP for the way it was formulated. Yordan Tsonev of the DPS argued that the parliamentary debate “lowers” the important issue of the fight against corruption.
MRF leader Mustafa Karadaya announced that the party would support the vote of no confidence because of the participation of nationalists in the cabinet.
“In this situation, we are not just supporting the no-confidence motion on corruption, but we are pointing to its root cause – the environment that generates corruption and the incompetence of the government to rule in the present-day conditions,” said Karadaya. DPS MP Djajan Ibryamov added that it was not possible for such people to label themselves both as “European” and as “nationalist chauvinists”.
The most vulgar phrases came from the nationalists. Deputy Prime Minister of United Patriots Valery Simeonov compared Ninova to an infamous criminal.
“What you are doing right now is another pork queue to destroy everything in the BSP and instead of a Bulgarian Teresa May, you become a political Anita Meiser,” he turned to Ninova, throwing the audience in shock. Anita Meiser was convicted in 2017 of her husband’s negligent assassination, whom she tied up with nylon cable ties during sex. Simeonov described the vote as “fake, pitiful and humiliating.” After his speech, the debate in the National Assembly collapsed.
The United Patriot Minister of defence Krasimir Karakachanov commented that corruption has been around in Bulgaria for 27 years, while BSP was making “cheap circuses” which he also called useless.
The parliamentary group “Volya” also took part. It’s leader Veselin Mareshki is accused of blackmailing businessmen. The party said it would not support the no-confidence motion against GERB, arguing that a such vote should be sought against all post-communist politicians, except those of “Volya”. “The real alternative is not yet ripe”, Mareshki said.
Since he is investigated over the accusations of blackmail, Mareshki no longer plays opposition to Borissov.