The desire to overthrow GERB and Boyko Borissov wasn’t enough: There is Such a Nation, the new party that won Bulgaria’s latest elections, made another U-turn on Tuesday by revoking its ministerial nominations amid rising controversies.
This happened a day before the parliament was due to vote on them and the picture didn’t look good for the party: in the last weeks, There is Such a Nation’s potential partners grew increasingly alienated because of the series of questionable decisions.
“This means new elections,” the leader of the party, Slavi Trifonov, said in a short video statement.
There’s Such a Nation debuted as a second power in April, but as the elections proved to be inconclusive, they eventually won the July repeat elections with 24.08 per cent of the vote in a knife-edge battle with GERB (23.51 per cent).
While eyes were on There’s Such a Nation to adopt a more sober tone and make a hesitant but not impossible coalition with pro-EU Democratic Bulgaria, Stand Up.BG! We’re Coming! and the pro-Russia Bulgarian Socialist Party, the winning party, became more and more hostile to the idea in the last month. There’s Such a Nation made it clear that they will only offer a cabinet if it’s entirely by their own choosing, with enough MP support from the other parties.
There ain’t such a party
There’s Such a Nation’s success so far relied on the recognizability of Slavi Trifonov, one of the most famous celebrities in the country, with a career in TV, music and comedy which goes back to the mid-90’s and has never shown signs of slowing down. This especially echoed with Bulgarians abroad, who don’t necessarily follow the new names on the political scene.
Since announcing the party, Trifonov has been mysteriously absent from campaigning and engaging with voters, which he and other members often explained with his distrust in local media. With the months passing his silence was growingly while rumours on his health persisted (fueled also by his only press interview - with French newspaper Le Monde which described him as walking with crutches and having an unhealthy appearance). His screenwriter Toshko Yordanov began to be the voice of the party in the media.
Another curious layer is that neither Trifonov, nor Yordanov, ran as MP’s for the party and put forward a ministerial list of people, who are mostly complete political newcomers which took by surprise both the media and their colleagues in the parliament.
If the other two “parties of the protest” - Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up.BG! We’re Coming! (formerly known as Stand Up.BG! Mobsters Out!) - were inclined to make compromises to make a coalition with There Such a Nation, the nominations were the final straw in the already tense relationship.
The controversial choices included Plamen Nikolov, who was nominated for prime minister, whose biography became a topic of discussions - initially described as an international high-level business leader by the party, Nikolov is a representative of swimming brand FINIS for Bulgaria. His educational credentials, including a PhD in philosophy, were also subject of discussions.
Lawyer Momchil Ivanov was the party’s choice for Justice Minister - he was found to have aired George Soros-related conspiracy theories and most significantly, lawyer Petar Iliev for Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, another new name.
Iliev is the honorary consul of Barbados in Bulgaria, Chairman of the Caribbean Bulgarian Business Club and is currently being investigated by Sofia University over reports that he plagiarised his PhD. He has previously advised the Bulgarian Socialist Party on legal matters. On Monday, Iliev made a widely-commented TV appearance. During the interview he interrupted the host, accusing the media of questioning his integrity and denying the possibility that his work in Barbados might be connected to offshore financial schemes.
Backlash from the other opposition parties
Iliev’s attitude was criticized by the other members of the opposition parties. Kornelia Ninova from Bulgarian Socialist Party described it as “deeply unsettling”.
“The best thing that we can say about the cabinet is that we simply don’t know these people,” Hristo Ivanov, co-leader of Democratic Bulgaria, said. “And for some, we can’t even give the benefit of doubt - one decided to speak and look at what happened.” After the party dropped its nominations, Ivanov commented on Tuesday: “Nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, who knows what grotesque twist the screenwriters will come up with.”
In the current situation, Trifonov sees the distrust of the other opposition parties as betrayal, while they see their potential support of cabinet as a betrayal to their voters and the ideals of the 2020-2021 protest wave. “We have the responsibility to the Bulgarian nation, to those who filled the squares to protest, to support a government of change, a government which will destroy the single-power model, which will fight against corruption, which will initiate brave reforms. Some of the people offered for ministers are absolutely unacceptable”, said Maya Manolova, leader of Stand Up.BG! We’re Coming! on Monday.
“The members of There is Such a Nation are acting like evil children from a Stephen King novel”, said to Bulgarian National Radio on Tuesday political analyst Evgeniy Dainov.
With There Such a Nation’s suddenly dropping the mandate, it will now go to GERB, but based on previous statements by former PM Borissov, the party will not make use of the opportunity. From then on, the president can nominate a third party to try to form a government. In the spring, he chose the Bulgarian Socialist Party, who has dabbled with the idea of making the caretaker cabinet permanent if they are in such a situation.
The third round of elections will clash with the next Presidential elections
Slavi Trifonov’s video statement on Tuesday ended with another unexpected bit: he’ll endorse current President Rumen Radev in the next Presidential elections, also expected to take place in late 2021.
This comes as a surprise, as in his rare appearances, Trifonov has expressed dislike of the caretaker cabinet, chosen by Radev. The other opposition parties see some of the members as good to be permanent - something Trifonov sees as unwanted influence in his potential cabinet. Caretaker PM Stefan Yanev, defense expert for the President, criticizes Trifonov’s party for lack of transparency. “There is a growing feeling that political processes are straying away from their usual democratic logic,” Yanev said last week. “Citizens need to know who is setting the priorities, who is choosing the people in the new cabinet.”
Earlier in 2021, Rumen Radev stated he’ll run for a second term, again as an independent candidate, supported by the Bulgarian Socialist Party. As of August, he is still the only politician to openly announce a campaign. Vague statements on the subject were made by boxing star Kubrat Pulev, who unexpectedly initiated a party earlier this summer.
Bulgaria’s political deadlock overshadows other pressing issues
As the political crisis in the country continues to worsen, other issues remain in limbo. Bulgaria is now into its fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, with 744 people testing positive on Tuesday. Bulgaria also continues to be one of the slowest countries in Europe to inoculate the population and the slowest in the EU. Since January, around 1,500,000 have been fully vaccinated, with usually several thousand jabs administered on a daily basis. Vaccination skepticism persists in the country while rumours about the trade of fake vaccination passports are growing. On Tuesday the Ministry of Health stated that return of stricter measures is not planned while earlier the same day Sofia’s Regional Health Inspectorate said that restrictions are forthcoming. The same day also saw a protest by doctors working in COVID-19 wards, demanding better salaries.
Similarly to Greece and Turkey, Bulgaria is experiencing wildfires. Three fires have been detected near the town of Kyustendil, with one destroying the school and several houses in a local village. In the previous week 21 alerts for forest fires have been observed near Sliven.
On the plus side, as the caretaker cabinet is in power, this guarantees that the commissions working on revising GERB’s affairs, irregular spendings from the state budget and potential ties to the oligarchy, claims on mass eavesdropping during the 2020-2021, will continue to delve into the near past.