news 26 Feb 13

Protests Continue in Bulgaria After PM Quits

As rallies continue in Bulgaria - despite the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov - the President is mulling appointing a caretaker government of experts.

Victor Kotsev

Protests against the political establishment continued on a smaller scale in Bulgaria on Monday, when several hundred people gathered for a rally in the capital.

The previous day, tens of thousands took to the streets of Sofia and other major cities, calling for the dismantling of energy monopolies, the convening a Grand National Assembly to make sweeping constitutional changes, and the prosecution of leading politicians, among other demands.

In parliament on Monday, the three largest parties announced that they would not form a new government.

President Rosen Plevenliev in turn promised that in that case, he would appoint a caretaker government of experts by the end of next week.

According to the daily Standart, his top choice for an interim prime minister would be the EU commissioner for international cooperation, Kristalina Georgieva.

The new government would face a number of urgent tasks such as organizing a general election within two months of the dissolution of parliament, addressing the demands of the protestors, and negotiating the distribution of EU cohesion funds for the period of 2014-2020.

Several key infrastructural projects, such as the highway linking Sofia to the Black Sea hub of Burgas, whose completion date has been pushed into the future several times, could face further delays.

Energy reforms—the protests originally targeted to the high cost of electricity—are meanwhile stalling.

The board of the State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission resigned last week, though not before deciding not to revoke the license of the electricity distribution company which had been threatened with such a measure, owned by the Czech-based ČEZ Group

In the long run, pundits say an IMF loan will be hard to avoid despite a strong showing of investor confidence during a short-term bond emission on the internal market last week, worth around 400 million euro.

“A loan will most likely be necessary because the state coffers are empty,” a sociologist and political expert, Tzvetozar Tomov, told the newspaper Glasove last week.

Veselin Avraamov, a political analyst, agrees, adding that the protests may have marked the end of austerity for the country.

“With these social upheavals I don’t see a government which for at least the next three years would dare to play with social stability in the country,” he said. “It is impossible right now to have a tight fiscal policy.”

Meanwhile, demonstrations demanding radical reform of the political system are scheduled to continue. A man associated with the protesters who set himself on fire last week, Plamen Goranov, is being hailed by many as Bulgaria's Jan Palach, a reference to the Czech student who set himself on fire in 1969 following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous year.

Demonstrations by Bulgarian expats have started also in front of the Bulgarian embassies in London, Berlin, and other European capitals.

At the same time, analysts and the protesters themselves caution that people aligned with the main political parties are trying to infiltrate their ranks.

The online information agency reported that at least 16 people associated with the former government and other political forces, including two people who have served as government ministers in recent years, were among the founders of an organization which has claimed to speak on behalf of the angry masses.

“This street democracy which we see right now is being channeled and manipulated by the established political powers,” Avraamov warned.

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