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President-Prime Minister face off deepens and widens

Photo: BGNES

While inspecting the construction of a motorway on Sunday, PM Boyko Borissov complained he was the target of a mudslinging campaign after a publication in the press in Spain, behind which he discerns President Rumen Radev and Russia.

This grievance was voiced in the presence of cabinet members and comes as confirmation that the standoff between President Rumen Radev and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has been intensifying and widening appreciably. To begin with this standoff left an impression of personal resentment, but then it evolved to an institutional level – a standoff between the executive branch and the presidency, from national, acquiring international proportions.

From a personal level the conflict episodes evolved to a distinctly institutional conflict after, on 4 February, the President officially announced he was withdrawing his confidence in the government and the Prime Minister accused him of dividing the nation. The ruling GERB party stood firmly behind Borissov in the position that the President does not have the authority to strip the government of confidence. A position even the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS, expressed solidarity with, saying that the President has the right to an opinion though not to withdraw or to give confidence. GERB’s coalition partners – the United Patriots coalition – called for a normalization of relations between the institutions.

It was only the left-wing coalition Bulgarian Socialist Party for Bulgaria that expressed firm solidarity with the President, but this only served to rekindle previous accusations of a hidden connection between the socialists and the Bulgarian head of state.

Accusations that were given a new momentum by the circumstances surrounding the ceremony marking the 147th anniversary of the death of national hero Vassil Levski. In front of the monument to Levski in Sofia a public procession applauded President Radev and booed Sofia city mayor Yordanka Fandakova. In a declaration GERB stated that the memory of the Apostle of Freedom, as Vassil Levski is called, had been abused under the patronage of the President who had become leader of “party marginals”. 

Then came PM Borissov’s statement that the idea was for the procession in question to become the climax of a series of publications against him in Spain, to be followed by an “anti-government putsch”.

In this context, without actually mentioning Russia, Borissov hinted that he had prior information of this and that this incident was connected with the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Bulgaria and the fact that some people were wanted on a “red notice”.

This last comment coincided in time with a statement by the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Intelligence denying that its Director Sergey Naryshkin had lobbied, in the United Arab Emirates, for the release of businessman Vasil Bozhkov, who is wanted by Bulgaria. The news in question, he said, was fabricated by the Bulgarian special services under American control.

According to Russia’s intelligence spokesman, the American special services had started a campaign in Eastern Europe against any relations of goodneighbourhood with Russia, and Bulgaria was its epicenter.

And to pour more fuel on the fire, PM Borissov said that it was Rumen Radev and Russia that were behind the compromising article published by the Spanish El Periódico. Instead of fending off any accusations, this focused more attention on the allegations of money-laundering and the story was picked up by another Spanish paper - Nacional. As the number of commentaries multiplied, the feeling that the affair was becoming internationalized grew stronger.

In the most modern history of Bulgaria standoffs between the presidential institution and the executive branch are nothing new. We have seen such occurrences under President Zhelyu Zhelev /1992-1997/, under President Petar Stoyanov /1997-2002/ and under President Georgi Parvanov/2002-2012/. But they have always been toned down and much more limited in scope. How far things will go it is still too early to tell. But one thing is clear – as a newspaper commented not long ago, from cold, the war between the institutions has grown hot.

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