Project for acquisition of new fighter aircraft advances, contradictions multiply

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Photos: BGNES and lockheedmartin.com

Bulgaria’s cabinet headed by Premier Boyko Borissov asked this country’s National Assembly for a mandate to start negotiations with the USA on the acquisition of F-16 Block 70 fighter aircraft. Moreover, the cabinet asks the Parliament to approve for the future contract to deviate from Bulgaria’s previous compulsory requirements. Thus, the saga related to the acquisition of new combat aircraft for the Bulgarian Air Force, which started years ago, seems to be coming to its end. However, contradictions related to this issue have multiplied recently.

The Bulgarian government made this proposal, although this country’s President Rumen Radev, the biggest opposition party BSP, the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria (which is part of the ruling coalition) and Volya party are of different opinion. According to Bulgaria’s head of state Radev, the procedure for selection of new fighter aircraft for the Bulgarian air forces was vitiated. President Radev contends that the authorities must observe the financial framework adopted by the Bulgarian National Assembly. NFSB which is part of the Bulgarian ruling coalition believes that the procedure for acquisition of a new combat aircraft must be revoked and start all over again. The Bulgarian Socialist Party contends that the selection of F-16 is the culmination of the attack against the law and the Parliamentary republic in this country. Volya party is against the purchase of any type of fighter jets. The nationalist Ataka party, which is also part of the country’s government and part of the United Patriots coalition, is expected to vote against the proposal of the Bulgarian cabinet as well. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms has not yet announced how it would vote in Parliament, but many analysts assume that it may vote in favor of this proposal.

In other words, it is not clear yet whether the latest proposal of the Bulgarian cabinet related to the start of negotiations with the USA on the acquisition of a new combat aircraft will be approved at the National Assembly. If BSP, NFSB, Ataka and Volya vote against, the proposal will be approved by the National Assembly only if the Movement for Rights and Freedoms vote in favor together with GERB and VMRO. Such development would be a sign of a new balance of political forces. On one hand, it would be a sign of a split within the country’s ruling coalition on a strategic topic. On the other hand, it would be a sign of a shift in attitudes about political interactions, because until now GERB and especially VMRO have refused interactions with MRF. Formally, a possible support from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms does not necessarily mean an interaction, but in all cases it will be perceived as an opportunity to form floating majorities at the Bulgarian National Assembly on other issues as well.

The debate on the purchase of new fighter aircraft is expected to be quite difficult. It will coincide with the start of the election campaigns of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and GERB in the second half of January. In 2019 elections for Members of the European Parliament as well as local elections will be held in this country. VMRO, NFSB and Ataka which form the United Patriots coalition and are part of the Bulgarian government will lead separate election campaigns and possible tension with GERB cannot be ruled out completely. The accumulation of contradictions on the acquisition of a new fighter aircraft and the inevitable contradictions within the context of the forthcoming elections will boost political rivalry. We are to learn in the coming days how far this rivalry could go.

English version: Kostadin Atanasov

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