Bulgaria Guide - politics and political environment
Bulgaria’s current Cabinet is headed by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, whose party the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (commonly known by its Bulgarian abbreviation GERB) won the largest share of votes in the July 5 2009 national parliamentary elections.
Deciding not to form a multi-party coalition, Borissov appointed 16 Cabinet ministers from his party. The Cabinet was sworn in on July 27 2009.
The Cabinet is subject to approval by a vote in the National Assembly, and is subject to Question Time in Parliament and other forms of accountability, such as requests by Parliament to hear individual ministers speak on topical issues. The Cabinet implements foreign and domestic policy, looks after public order and national security as well as the military, and also draws up and presents the state budget.
Under Borissov, Bulgaria is governed by a Cabinet that has a minority in Parliament. At the July 2009 elections, which were conducted – for the first time – on the basis of a mixed proportional representation and majoritarian vote system, GERB took 39.72 per cent of the votes (116 seats).
The Bulgarian Socialist Party-dominated Coalition for Bulgaria, led by Sergei Stanishev who was the previous prime minister, got 17.7 per cent (40 seats), Ahmed Dogan’s Movement for Rights and Freedoms (which had been a partner in the two previous governing coalitions) got 14.45 per cent (38 seats), Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalist Ataka got 9.36 per cent (21 seats), the centre-right Blue Coalition (co-led by the leaders of its two major constituent partners, Martin Dimitrov of the Union of Democratic Forces and Ivan Kostov of the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria) got 6.76 per cent (15 seats), Yane Yanev’s right-wing Order Lawfulness and Justice party got 4.13 per cent (10 seats).
Voters, who turned out at a strength of 60.2 per cent, denied seats to a number of other parties, notably Simeon Saxe-Coburg’s National Movement for Stability and Progress, which from 2001 to 2005 had been the majority partner in government and from 2005 to 2009 was the third member of the governing tripartite coalition. Saxe-Coburg, who was Bulgaria’s boy king until being ousted after the communist takeover in Bulgaria in a referendum generally seen as rigged, stepped down as party leader.
Policies and actions
Borissov took office vowing to build Bulgaria’s respectability in the eyes of its fellow members of the European Union, which in 2008 penalised Bulgaria by denying funding because of alleged abuses, while the European Commission has issued a series of reports under the post-2007 Co-Operation and Verification Mechanism sharply criticising Bulgaria’s performance in the fight against organised crime and corruption – although more recent reports have noted that the country has made some progress, albeit inadequate, in this regard.
The GERB Government also has pledged to keep in place the Currency Board mechanism that stabilises the local currency, the lev, by pegging it to the euro – a measure introduced after Bulgaria’s 1996/97 financial and economic meltdown.
Having inherited a long-concealed but massive deficit from its predecessor, the Cabinet’s first actions were to trim public spending and also to shut down or put on hold wasteful and big-ticket projects approved by its predecessor; some spending by the Stanishev government was reported to be destined for prosecution.
A major theme of the opening months of the Borissov Cabinet was its hard look at a number of large-scale energy projects – the Belene nuclear power station, Bourgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline, the South Stream gas pipeline – that senior members of his team called into question as being of dubious value and potential high cost to Bulgaria.
This was complicated by the fact that all had Russian involvement, and the initial public resistance by Borissov’s team to going ahead with them led to Borissov having a meeting organised at short notice with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. At this meeting, Borissov told Putin that by November 2009 Bulgaria would clarify its position on the projects.
An indication of the policy priorities of Borissov was the appointment of his two Deputy Prime Ministers – his close lieutenant and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov and former World Bank chief economist, Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov.
In the first two months of Borissov’s Government, public reception was generally positive – opinion polls showed the individual popularity of Borissov, as well as that of his party and his Government, on the rise in these initial days.
A notable discordant note was the public criticism issued against Borissov by Georgi Purvanov, President of Bulgaria and before becoming head of state in January 2002, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
The Executive Branch
The President is the head of state and directly elected on the same ballot as the Vice-President for a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms. The President is also the supreme chief of the armed forces, convenes and presides over the Consultative Council on National Security and is responsible for appointing and dismissing high-ranking military officials as well as chiefs of foreign diplomatic missions.
Purvanov and Vice-President Angel Marin were elected in November 2001 and re-elected in 2006. This was the first time since the start of the transition period that a presidential candidate won two terms in office. In the first election, Purvanov defeated incumbent Petar Stoyanov; in the second, he defeated Ataka leader Volen Siderov, who made it to a second round.
The Judicial Branch
Bulgaria's judicial system based on the Three-Instances Procedure, and all judicial matters are overseen by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). The Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) and Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) administer and watch over all lower court actions as well as those of the government. There is a separate Constitutional Court, which takes decisions on the constitutionality of laws and treaties.
The judiciary system is also further divided into smaller regional and military courts. Reform of the judiciary has been a continuing topic of concern for Bulgaria’s EU partners, among others.
On April 25 2005, Bulgaria's then-prime minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg, then-foreign minister Solomon Passi, European Affairs Minister Meglena Kouneva and President Georgi Purvanov signed the Accession Treaty for Bulgaria and Romania to join the European Union.
Bulgaria joined the EU along with Romania on January 1 2007, increasing the size of the bloc to 27 member states. Bulgaria has twice elected MEPs, first after accession in special elections, the second time in June 2009, when Borissov’s GERB party won the majority of seats in a precursor of its victory in the July 2009 national parliamentary elections.
A continuing theme in the regular EC reports on Bulgaria has been continuing criticism of shortcomings in the management and use of EU funds, as well as repeated failure to act effectively against organised crime and corruption and to reform the judiciary.