Bulgaria: President vs. government – conflict without end?

Bulgarian president Georgi Parvanov and the government led by prime minister Boyko Borisov have been in constant conflict for the last weeks, its main subjects being the budget for 2011, the future of Bulgaria’s armed forces and the question of how to deal with former secret service agents who now work in the diplomatic service. While president and government had clashed on several occasions this year, this cumulation of conflict is unprecedented and reveals the fears of the actors involved.

The budget
President Parvanov has reluctantly signed the budget for 2011 on December 14, 2010. He criticised that it lacked some leeway for reacting to possible changes in the economic climate, dramatically increased the state debt and covertly introduced and increase in the overall tax charge. Furthermore, Mr Parvanov remarked that he would have opted for another distribution of the state funding to particular sectors and not frozen the income of state employees to counter a ‘impoverishment of the nation’. Lastly, he was dissatisfied with the – according to him – lack of reforms in higher education, administration and health care and the fact that the reserve of the National Health Insurance Fund will now be made part of the general budget and can thus theoretically be spent for other, unrelated purposes. While openly criticising the budget, president Parvanov declared he would still sign the budget as it was necessary for the country in the current economic climate not to start the year without a budget.

Future of the Armed Forces
For several weeks, president Parvanov and gen. Anyu Angelov, minister of defence, had struggled to compromise on the appointment of the leadership of the Bulgarian army. Parvanov had for instance refused to appoint a candidate proposed by gen. Angelov as head of the military intelligence service. This left the service without an official head until Mr Parvanov threatened not to appoint ministerial candidates to two other posts and gen. Angelov backed down. As the Bulgarian president is Commander-in-chief of the armed forces s/he has to agree to all appointments of senior officials.
President Parvanov went further accusing gen. Angelov in an interview of wanting to bring back the structure of the armed forces to a pre-1989 state in order to concentrate as much power as possible in his hands. As a response, gen. Angelov published an open letter in which he outlined the differences between him and the president regarding the future structre and mission of the Bulgarian armed forces. He argued that Bulgaria needed an army that would not only be capable of defending Bulgaria’s territory but also (and preponderantly) be able to participate in international missions under EU or NATO command. President Parvanov on the other hand made this his main point of criticism, arguing that the priorities for the Bulgarian army should not lie in the field of international but domestic security.

Ex-agents in the diplomatic service
The most recent and probably ‘loudest’ of conflicts between president and government started last week after a commission on the involvement of former secret service employees in Bulgaria’s current diplomatic service had published the names of 218 members of the diplomatic service who had worked for the Communist secret service. Prime minister Boyko Borisov demanded from president Parvanov to dismiss 42 high-ranking diplomats – among them the Bulgarian ambassadors to Germany, the UK and the US. Current foreign minister Nikolay Mladenov and other members of the government heavily criticised the president’s decision; former foreign minister Ivaylo Kalfin and think tank representatives, however, supported the president as the diplomats’ former ties to the service had been public before and they had helped Bulgaria to join EU and NATO. President Parvanov also remarked that ten out of the 41 diplomats in questions had been appointed by the incumbent centre-right government itself – the government in turn declared that they had only carried out changes in personnel initiated by the previous socialist government.
The president – who himself had been exposed as a former agent in 2006 – then proposed to dismiss the ambassadors in question (the government is only able to recall but not to dismiss them) if the minister for the Bulgarian Diaspora would resign as he had a similar secret service background. Prime minister Borisov rejected the offer; however, only few days later Pavlin Dimitrov, deputy minister of the interior, resigned after he also had been exposed as a former collaborator.

No end in sight?!
Both president and prime minister currently lack a clear support base in the population – their public approval ratings having fallen to all-time lows around 45% – and among their party members. Even though his vetoes can and are easily overridden, the conflict about collaborator-diplomats has shown (and still shows – after all the matter is still unresolved) that the president still disposes of several important powers. The Borisov government on the other hand seems to unexperienced to deal with and also simply ignore many of the president’s provocations which now have become more aggressive. Furthermore, it seems that Borisov sees Mr Parvanov’s new political movement (ABV) – though still in its early stage of formation and with a very unclear fate – as a threat to his own political ambitions. As no Bulgarian prime minister has been re-elected until now, he maybe shouldn’t worry about these too much. It is rather president Parvanov who has to worry: His second term in office ends next year and if his ABV-project fails it might be very hard for him to return to a powerful position in politics without the support of the Social Democratic Party. Its members and leadership, however, have already become wary when it comes to president Parvanov as the foundation president’s new movement send mixed signals regarding his will to be associated with his old party – a party that certainly does not want to be the ‘second-choice’ career option for a retired president.

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