NEW PARTY LEADER? Kassim Dal could replace Ahmed Dogan as leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedom, party officials said.
The first week of 2010 saw two episodes in Bulgaria’s political life that, on the face of it, seem like arcane internal developments – but in the long term, could have a major influence on the future.
One was the January 10 conference of the ruling party, the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (abbreviated as GERB in Bulgarian). It was the party’s first such gathering after it won the July 2009 national parliamentary elections.
The conference had one main purpose, to elect Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, around whom GERB was founded in 2005, as the party’s supreme leader, replacing Tsvetan Tsvetanov who now is also Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister.
Borissov had to wait till 2010 to be elected officially as party leader because like all mayors – Borissov was Sofia’s first citizen from 2005 to 2009 – he was barred by a nine-year-old law from simultaneously leading a political party. Tsvetanov was the nominal leader, while the media dubbed Borissov "the informal leader".
The anomaly ended when the 1227 delegates at the GERB conference unanimously elected Borissov leader, and made Tsvetanov his deputy.
Addressing the conference, Borissov said that he would let Tsvetanov deal with party matters while Borissov concentrated on his work as Prime Minister.
"I will interfere only when there is some argument going on," Borissov told the conference.
The rest of his speech was about what GERB should do to avoid erosion while in power.
"The only enemy we have is ourselves," Borissov said.
He said that he would show zero tolerance for those who stole and who "betray people’s trust".
While most attention was on the election of Borissov and his reiteration of his familiar stance against corruption, a move later in the day was overshadowed – namely, a decision to decentralise organisation powers to the GERB local units at the expense of the party’s regional and central units.
The message which came from Tsvetanov was clear: GERB must change its policy and open up to people in small towns and villages where traditional centre-right parties always have had trouble making gains against the two former ruling parties, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). And since Borissov previously had said that he intended to keep GERB in power for a further four-year term, GERB’s priorities were clearly set at winning over supporters in the countryside – people who, as the BSP and MRF know, tend to be less politically fickle than their big-city equivalents.
"The most important goal for 2011 is the local elections where we have to reaffirm what we have achieved. After that comes the presidential elections," Tsvetanov told the conference. "Results at these two elections will be the basis for what happens at the next parliamentary elections," he said.
A giveaway name
A day after GERB had its conference, the party that Borissov repeatedly has identified as his main political rival, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), underwent an internal reshuffle, a manoeuvre by its leader Ahmed Dogan.
The change came a month after Dogan was unanimously re-elected as party leader, a position he has held since the party was founded in 1990. Dogan’s re-election came after he had hinted the previous day that he could resign as leader, even though it is hardly the first time that he had raised such a scenario.
"There comes a time for separation of the baby from the parent. I know that you are not ready for this inevitable act, but this should happen," Dogan told MRF delegates.
He said that the MRF should not become merely a party revolving around the permanent leadership of one individual.
True to his previous behaviour, Dogan refused to speak to the media after the conference to explain what he actually meant by saying yet again that there comes a time for separation.
His intentions became clear on January 11 when the MRF’s central council approved a number of changes in the party’s leadership, all at Dogan’s request. Five of his closest associates were stripped of their positions as deputy chairpersons of the party, including Emel Etem who was emergency situations minister in the previous government.
The change was reported by most of Bulgarian media as Dogan carrying out a radical clean-up of the party, but a close look showed that it was more of a structural change, as most of the ousted deputies kept their positions in the party’s central operational bureau, which the MRF statute gives the actual political leadership of the party.
Some MRF members interpreted the move on the basis of Dogan having said that decisions should be taken not by the deputy chairpersons but by the operational bureau, or, in other words, the former deputies would still keep their influence in the party but as a panel, not as individuals.
However, the fact that key figures such as Etem and Kassim Dal were no longer MRF deputy chairpersons was a good reason to suggest that the change might have other meaning, especially regarding Dal, who was considered Dogan’s most faithful associate in the party.
Of those who founded the party, Dal is the only person still standing next to Dogan. The two men have a long-standing close personal relationship from the time when they were political prisoners during the communist era. On January 12, MRF member professor Luydmil Georgiev said that Dogan had shifted Dal to give Dal time to prepare to succeed Dogan as party leader.
"Dal’s choice is only natural as he is one of the MRF’s symbols, and Dal, together with Dogan, have made the biggest contribution to MRF election results over the years," Georgiev told Bulgarian National Television.
Just how long this time of preparation would be, Georgiev did not say, but judging by Dogan’s previous hints about quitting the party’s top position, it could well be another four years.