New division lines in political life as model of financing political parties in Bulgaria radically changed

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A little after the elections for European Parliament and just three months before the local elections, the idea of drastically slashing subsidies for political parties has been revived.

Why now? The concrete reason was a financial probe which showed that the parliamentary, but also some forces not represented in parliament, received subsidies higher than the sum stipulated by law. The Finance Ministry published a list showing that, receiving 13 instead of 11 Leva for every valid vote, the parties benefiting most are GERB (5.7 million Leva), the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP (4.3 million Leva), the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS (1.6 million Leva). The National Assembly decided that the overpayments must be returned by 2020. This was followed by steps to slash the subsidies from the national budget for political parties.

As a matter of fact the idea was first floated in July 2015 by showman and TV personality Slavi Trifonov, and at a referendum organized by him, received the support of 2.5 million - 12,000 votes short of the minimum threshold for it to enter into force. So, it was not put through then.

In 2015 the ruling GERB party opposed the idea, but in June this year embraced it and even agreed to the demand of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) to allow unlimited financing for parties by businesses and private individuals. For the leading opposition force – the BSP – the latter is “an attempt to crush the fundamental achievements of Bulgarian democracy”, and some observers warned that this is not a good time to change the model of party financing. Nevertheless, at the beginning of July parliament approved a draft bill for changes to the national budget for 2019, with the votes of GERB, DPS, Ataka and Volya, slashing the subsidy for political parties down from 11 to 1 Lev per vote received. The BSP leaned towards reducing subsidies, though not down to 1 Lev, so as not to throw the door wide open to outside or mafia interests in politics. A similar position was taken by the junior coalition partners – VMRO and the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, NFSB.

The controversy on the subject drew new dividing lines in Bulgaria’s political life. Both the ruling GERB party and the opposition DPS gave their support to this change in the model of financing. Only one of the three formations which are part of the United Patriots, the junior coalition partner of the ruling GERB party – Ataka party – agreed to this change. The two other elements of the “patriots” – VMRO and NFSB - found themselves on the opposite side of the barricade, on the same side as the BSP. The controversy crossed the boundaries of Bulgaria as the Bulgarian Socialist Party contested the change in a letter to the European Commission, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in European Parliament, the Party of European Socialists, the ambassadors of the EU and USA to Bulgaria. In the letter, the BSP writes that the lower subsidy fundamentally changes the conditions in which the political system functions.

Transparency International does not approve either. The NGO says that the financing of political parties by companies would tear down rules and open the door wide to a host of negative phenomena.

In the run-up to local elections on 27 October and 3 November voters in Bulgaria face an unsettling change. Three years ago, according to the rules of direct democracy, over 2.5 million votes were cast “for” in a national referendum on the matter, and they were not enough. Now voters are being served this same change, according to the laws of representative democracy, by 119 votes “for” out of a total of 206 votes in parliament.

Whether this will affect the local elections in the autumn and how is difficult to say. What seems certain is that the parties that lose the local elections will put the blame for their poor performance on those that win, and will accuse them of vote-buying.



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