Social Minister Bisser Petkov resigned yesterday (11 June), the move signaling deepening tensions in the government. The specific reason for Petkov’s resignation was the relentless protest of the parents of disabled children. Yesterday Prime Minister Boyko Borissov accepted the invitation, but today he said Petkov will keep his post. Krassen Nikolov has the story.
Two weeks ago, the parents of disabled children made a camp in front of the parliament so that lawmakers could see the problems they are facing. The demonstration is under the slogan “The system kills us”.
Petkov said he feels unable to solve the problems because the reform is not only in his hands. Brime Minister Boyko Borrisov immediately accepted the resignation. However, today he stated:
“I will leave Bisser Petkov to work, let’s see if the protest camps will stay on. I told him to meet [with the protesters] today. His resignation is in front of me, I can activate it any time”.
Today Borissov is on a visit to Turkey to continue talks on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, following his discussions in Moscow two weeks ago with Vladimir Putin. From Turkey, Borissov will visit Israel.
Over the past few weeks, the prime minister has been criticised for being too active internationally, and neglecting domestic politics. This indeed creates huge problems for the ruling GERB party and the ministers, who are used that Borissov should have the last word in resolving the most elementary issues in the country.
Petkov’s resignation has also exacerbated the sense of a severe crisis in the country’s social sectors, which for decades need structural reforms. He is considered one of the best specialists in the sector. In 2011 Petkov was appointed head of the National Social Security Institute and held this position for five years.
The first minister who resigned from the Borissov-3 Cabinet was Nikolay Petrov, who had the difficult health portfolio. The second was the energy minister Temenujka Petkova, because of the scandal with the purchase of CEZ’s business in Bulgaria by “Inercom Bulgaria”. Borissov initially accepted Petkova’s resignation, and then rejected it.
The resignation of Bisser Petkov was surprising. The protesting parents of disabled children took his side. They now threaten GERB with a “grandiose” anti-government protest if the social minister is not left to continue his work.
“This is our seventh protest, and Bisser Petkov was the first Social Minister with whom we had some talks.” He was forthcoming and I can say that he was sometimes on our side. He agreed that the reforms should be submitted to parliament. We don’t know if he can return as Social Minister, but we support him”, Olga Milchelieva, a mother of a disabled girl, told national television.
The resignation of the social minister will hardly solve the problems of children with disabilities that have been identified for years. Although he serves a third mandate as a Prime Minister, Borissov said only last April that he had learned from television how difficult life of these people was. He explained that what he saw made him cry. His minister was determined to solve the problems, but lost his job.
Protesting parents insist on better social services, permanent access to a medical specialist, including rehabilitators, and electronic records of people with disabilities. They insist that financial support for people with disabilities should not to stop at the age of 18 because these people need support for their social inclusion. All this requires new budget expenditures, something Bisser Petkov could not guarantee on his own.
In response to their requests, the Social Ministry has already prepared amendments to the Family Allowance Act, proposing children who have lost one or both parents and are not entitled to a survivor’s pension, to receive monthly financial assistance. This would allow 5,300 to 5,400 children to receive additional support from the state. The law was to be submitted to parliament when Petkov resigned.
“I think we have upset many interests with the new law. We asked for something simple, and for the first time the minister understood, that support should be not per head, but according to the needs and the possibilities of the state. This is the first minister who realised that we do not want money , on the contrary, we gave him ideas that could alleviate the burden on taxpayers”, said Venelina Kazandjieva, mother of a disabled boy.
By withholding Petkov’s resignation, it seems that Borissov seeks to avoid bigger protests, and fears developments that could get out of hand.
In this context, the comment of Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov, who co-chairs the nationalist coalition “United Patriots”, sounds interesting.
“Perhaps the season of resignations is coming. This disgrace cannot continue. The law must be respected”, Simeonov told bTV.
The deputy PM leads a personal battle against noise pollution and illegal constructions at the biggest and most famous sea resort in Bulgaria – Sunny Beach. Last week, he entered a heavy conflict with Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova and his statement was interpreted as a demand for her resignation. Tensions also intensify around Interior Minister Valentin Radev (GERB), who is accused by the United Patriots of leading the police to decay.