Faced with anti-mafia protests, Bulgaria’s Borissov sacks three ministers

A man waves an EU flag during an anti-government protest in front of the Council of Ministers in Sofia, Bulgaria, 14 July 2020. [Vassil Donev/EPA/EFE]

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Wednesday (15 July) asked his finance, economy and interior ministers to step down amid nationwide anti-corruption protests that have rocked the Balkan country for a week.

Borissov, who has been in office almost without a break since 2009, said earlier in the day he would decide at the end of the week whether his third government would stay in office until scheduled elections next spring.

Before that he will travel to Brussels on 17-18 July to attend the first in-person EU summit since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Thousands of Bulgarians have called on Borissov and the country’s chief prosecutor to resign over rampant high-level graft that has weakened state institutions and benefited powerful tycoons. The prosecutor general, Ivan Geshev, is widely considered as biased and unfit for the job.

The protests have drawn support from across the political spectrum, as well as from young people with no political affiliation. Bulgarians put a lot of hope in the EU to help put an end to a 30-years transition they consider as criminal.

Police violence has been documented during the protests and political parties have asked for the resignation of the interior minister.

The opposition socialists, who tendered a no-confidence motion against the government, as well as President Rumen Radev, a vocal critic of Borissov, have both asked him to step down and open the way for snap elections.

Borissov decided to dismiss the ministers to put an end to speculation that they were working in cahoots with the opposition ethnic Turkish MRF party and its senior member, businessman and media owner Delyan Peevski, his GERB party said in a statement.

“Such speculation is having a negative impact on the party,” GERB said.

But Borissov himself is targeted by the protestors as corrupt. Recently leaked recordings and photos suggest his involvement in heavy-handed brinkmanship and corruption.

Borissov fends off ‘kompromats’, says will sleep with a gun

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called an extraordinary meeting of his GERB party (EPP-affiliated) on Wednesday (17 June) to refute a leaked recording and photos suggesting heavy-handed brinkmanship and corruption.

Political analysts say the dismissals were unlikely to quell public anger and could be a sign that Borissov is streamlining his party lines for the next election.

“With these resignations Borissov will test if the tensions can be eased, but more likely he is trying to position his GERB party for the next polls,” said analyst Daniel Smilov, from the  Centre for Liberal Studies, an independent think tank.

According to news website Dnevnik, which quotes sources from Borissov’s party GERB (EPP-affiliated), intense discussions are taking place on whether Borissov should stay as Prime Minister until the next parliamentary elections in May 2021, or give way to another GERB-led government.

GERB appears to exclude early elections, fearing that a caretaker government appointed by the President would find skeletons in closets.

The three ministers will hand in their resignations on Thursday, the government said in a statement.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on the protests and the police violence, Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said on Wednesday that the EU executive is aware of the situation and that peaceful demonstrations are a fundamental right in all democratic countries.

“Any use of force should be exercised in a proportionate manner,” Dombrovskis said.

Borissov will attend the EPP pre-summit meeting in Brussels where the protests in Bulgaria will be discussed. Borissov has tried to convey the message that the attacks against him are inspired by oligarchs with an anti-Western geopolitical agenda.

Thirteen years on from its accession to the European Union, Bulgaria remains the bloc’s most corrupt member, according to Transparency International’s corruption perception index.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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