by Anthony Georgieff

Caretaker government starts dismantling GERB's networks of power

Following the failure of Bulgaria's "short" parliament, which sat for less than a month, to fulfil its basic constitutional duty, form a functioning government, President Rumen Radev stepped in and appointed a caretaker administration. Though its main task is to organise the next general election, to be held on 11 July, the "caretaker" government is not as powerless as it seems. In fact, it can do everything a regular government is able to do save for actions – such as altering the state budget or concluding international treaties – that would require parliamentary approval.

President Radev's appointment of the new government enacted in real life Boyko Borisov's worst nightmare, that he and his associates will be unable to go through a general election with themselves being in full control of the most important levers of state power.

Predictably, Boyko Borisov's supporters were incensed. They were quick to condemn the new government, led by Stefan Yanev, yet another army general, with the usual mixture of mudslinging, slander and conspiracy theories. The "protest parties," which under the current circumstances means everyone outside Boyko Borisov's GERB, were content. Wisely, President Radev's appointees belong to a variety of political shades and hues, indicating political bickering over real or imaginary issues will not stand in the way of the grander task, which everyone outside GERB sees as restoring this country's democracy.

Stefan Yanev's government was quick to set to work. In a place like Bulgaria where personal likes, dislikes, loyalties and animosities always come first, the most immediate action was to appoint new people in key government jobs. The majority of regional governors were replaced, and so were some of this country's top policemen, customs officers, Inland Revenue bosses and so on and so forth. These people were apparently loyal to Boyko Borisov rather than to the Republic of Bulgaria and its laws, President Radev intoned, immediately prompting accusations, by GERB's remaining supporters, of "revanchism" and "political purges." One needs to look no further than the way the GERB machine functioned through the 2010s to see any such allegations have no actual basis in reality. Boyko Borisov sacked officials left, right and centre and gave their jobs to people on the basis of his personal preferences and whims rather than any professional qualifications, accomplishment or career achievement. Though Borisov missed no chance to protest his anti-Communism he had picked up the methods of his Communist-era predecessor, Todor Zhivkov, in creating a system run by an administration where obedience mattered more than competence, and where no one was supposed to outshine the supreme leader. Whether GERB's formidable machine can be dismantled within just a few months remains to be seen. The current government, seen by many Bulgarians as the best one Bulgaria has had in at least 10 years, appears to be serious about it.

In the meantime, many ordinary Bulgarians have heaved a sigh of relief that they will no longer be exposed to Boyko Borisov's iPhoned jeep jaunts and uncouth nativism every night on TV. What had made the man endearing in the first place now seems to have turned against him.

Prior to dissolving itself, the 45th National Assembly made a few good and a few bad turns. It made changes to this country's election code and it mandated voting with machines rather than by using a pen-and-paper ballot. Whether this was a good or a bad move remains to be seen, especially in a Bulgaria where many parliaments and governments have failed to produce even credible lists of voters. It also set up a parliamentary committee to "revise" what went on in Bulgaria under Boyko Borisov. Borisov and his senior ministers refused to show up in parliament and explain themselves, contravening established practices and possibly breaking the law. But many others did show up. The committee, chaired by Maya Manolova, received dozens of reports of misdemeanour, wrongdoing and obvious corruption. One particularly gruesome example was provided by a farming entrepreneur who claimed he was forced to "contribute" a significant chunk of his profits to support Boyko Borisov's GERB. And when he refused, he was shown a video of another entrepreneur being raped in jail with the guards looking on. Boyko Borisov's agriculture minister then delivered the message that "our" prosecutors can handle you if you refuse the cough up.

The most significant accomplishment of the 45th National Assembly was that it showed to several million Bulgarians that the world could and would turn around without Boyko Borisov at the helm. Boyko Borisov, many Bulgarians were relieved to see, was not the superhero he represented himself as. And his GERB will disappear the moment he is no longer in control, just as it has happened with similar political groupings in Bulgaria's recent history.

But is Boyko Borisov really gone for good?

That question will be answered on 11 July in what observers agree is the most unpredictable election Bulgaria has ever had. If opinion polls are anything to go by – and they should usually be taken with a large pinch of salt – his GERB will mobilise its supporters. It will probably continue to be the largest party in the next parliament, but it will be short of any majority necessary to form a government. From that point on the question marks by far outnumber the certainties. There are two mains scenarios for Slavi Trifonov's There Is Such A People grouping. One is that it will do even better at the next election than it did last April. Following his huge success, Slavi Trifonov, who at the time was at home with the coronavirus, never spoke up to his fans. He gave just one radio interview. Notwithstanding his manifest populism (Slavi keeps repeating that everything will be up for the "sovereign" to decide), no one seems to know what There Is Such A People will be up to, except the need to "scrape off" every bit of GERB. The tactics of silence, however, may backfire. Voters expect to be told what's in for them and if they are not, for a prolonged period of time, they may get disillusioned and go elsewhere.

The next parliament will almost certainly have the disparate extreme nationalist parties including Krasimir Karakachanov's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation and Valeri Simeonov's National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria. Both failed to jump over the 4 percent election threshold in April because they stood alone. But they have now united. In the past the extreme nationalists were comfortable coalition allies for Boyko Borisov. Whether any replay is possible now will be seen after the election.

Most observers desist from making any predictions about the outcome of the snap vote because Bulgarian politics is now more divisive and volatile than ever before. In the meantime, Stefan Yanev's government should continue with its attempt to disassemble at least partly GERB's legacies in the administration and the day-to-day running of the state. Whether it will have the time to get law enforcement and the courts involved continues to be as good a guess as any. 


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