Getting Prime Minister Boiko Borissov to act seems difficult given his tough and macho image. The past few weeks, however, show that all you need is a sensitive issue and the media spotlight.
It is even better if this "sensitive issue" relates to money and salaries, especially during a time of economic crisis, rising prices and job cuts. Better still, if it concerns MPs’ salaries because Parliament is often described as the country’s most hated and mocked institution.
Borissov has always been keen on a wide media presence but lately his policy has become increasingly dependent on media reaction to his decisions and, especially, how the man on the street will react to media stunts such as that staged by his political opponent Yane Yanev.
Yanev used the sensitive issue of MPs’ salaries as a propaganda tool against Borissov and the ruling majority. According to Yanev, increasing salaries was incompatible with the general trend of cutting public costs and freezing salaries and pensions.
Yanev omitted to mention, however, that MPs’ salaries are updated every three months in line with data from the National Statistical Institute citing the average monthly salary in the public sector.
According to a rule in force since 1990, MPs’ salaries should equal three average public sector salaries. This means that, as of January 1 2010, an MP gets 2307 leva a month. In other words, MPs have not deliberately voted themselves a rise but have simply stuck to a policy adopted 20 years ago and followed by all national assemblies since. Naturally, Yanev did not say that. Instead, he accused MPs and Speaker of Parliament Tsetska Tsacheva (who, according to the rule, gets 55 per cent more than MPs) of being greedy. He forgot to mention, however, that as an MP he had also enjoyed the quarterly salary hikes.
Guessing what might follow, Tsacheva called a news conference to say that this salary hike was a result of a longstanding formula that all groups in Parliament should decline. Fair enough.
Unfortunately for her, by the time she made the statement, Yanev managed to make the news as the one who had exposed greedy MPs getting another salary raise despite the economic difficulties endured by everyone else. Predictably, Borissov was quick to take a stand on the issue. The following day he said that there would be a new formula for MPs’ salaries. He said that freezing the salaries of MPs and the Cabinet was the right and moral action. Of course, MPs can be rightfully blamed for not changing the formula themselves as a way to empathise with Bulgarians’ financial worries. They cannot be blamed, however, for just following an age-old practice.
For Borissov, however, it was all about adopting the right and moral position before the public.
"I have made clear orders – if there is not enough money for everyone then no one will get a raise," Borissov said. In other words, if other salaries cannot be raised because of the crisis, then ministers and MPs will not get an increase either. In just one day, therefore, Yanev, aided by the media, had managed to get Borissov to act.
According to a recent report in Bulgarian-language daily Monitor, an alleged "SMS mania" was responsible for the inability of the average Bulgarian teenager to write to standards of grammatical correctness in their native language.
We have finally learned about the activities of Ahmed Dogan, the almighty and long-standing leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) party, during all the years he failed to appear in Parliament.
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