By Krassen Nikolov
On Thursday (14 March), Vesselin Mareshki, the leader of the populist party “Volya”, and his eleven MPs, announced that they were leaving the parliament. Thus Mareshki would leave the functioning of the parliament to the Turkish minority party DPS. For several hours everyone was confused.
The ruling coalition between GERB and nationalists “United Patriots” has 122 MPs. 121 MPs is the quorum required for parliamentary majority. The ruling coalition was not able to sustain this majority for months. So far, the quorum was achieved thanks to “Volya” and several independent MPs. In February, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) left the parliament. So the departure of “Volya” would have left the fate of Boyko Borissov’s government entirely in the hands of the DPS.
On Thursday morning Mareshki failed to explain why his party was going to leave parliament. “I cannot tell you the reasons for the moment because the conversations are going on”, said Mareshki, without explaining to whom he was talking. GERB kept calm.
“We have 121 MPs, there is no crisis, there are no reasons for early parliamentary elections – the country is stable, the parliament is working,” said GERB parliamentary leader Tzvetan Tzvetanov. “The Parliament works well, I do not see a crisis,” added Valery Simeonov, one of the leaders of the “United Patriots”.
The calm reaction of the ruling coalition may only be explained by the fact that they had information that by the end of the day Mareshki would make a U-turn. So it happened. On Thursday evening the leader of “Volya” announced that his party would continue to provide the quorum in the National Assembly. He explained that his previous decision was motivated by the fact that parliament does not deal with the important issues – education, health care and income growth. Mareshki also motivated his return with conversations with his voters.
This is not the first time “Volya” announce that they will leave the parliament, but then they return. Last November, Mareshki made the same noises, but his words weren’t followed by deeds. The reason was the conflict the former Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov engineered with the mothers of the disabled children. (The conflict led to his resignation as Deputy PM.)
Mareshki explained that “Volya” is not a political blackmailer, but the question is whether he himself is not the victim of blackmailing.
Ironically, a year and a half ago, the the leader of “Volya” Veselin Mareshki was accused by the prosecution for being the leader of a criminal group that has blackmailed drugstores owners. Two other “Volya” MPs were accused with him. Mareshki himself owns one of the major pharmacies chains in the country. His drugstores keep relatively low prices to the benefit of poorer Bulgarians. The same business model was applied by Mareshki in his filling stations business.
The prosecution does not give information about the stage of this investigation. But this is a way of influencing Mareshki’s political decisions. The Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov has been suspected to be related to DPS for years. The owner of the bankrupted “Corporate Commercial Bank” Tzvetan Vassilev has told about relations between Tsatsarov and DPS MP Delyan Peevsky. Now the banker is accused of draining billions from the bank. The right hand of Prime Minister Borissov – Tzvetan Tzvetanov has also claimed that Tsatsarov and DPS were connected. And now Mareshki, who is investigated for blackmailing shows that he can leaving GERB entirely in the hands of DPS.
Another possible explanation is that Mareshki tries to focus attention on himself before the European elections. Recently his party became part of the “Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom,” built around Marine Le Pen’s “National Front”. If Mareshki is successful at the European elections, he or his MEP will sit with Le Pen.
“There are forthcoming conversations with GERB. I have the impression now that “Volya” is the most important player in this Parliament. In the last two years, I didn’t have that impression,” said Mareshki.
The departure from parliament may be influenced simultaneously by both reasons. In any case, it is very convenient for DPS, because the party is becoming the only stable support for Prime Minister Borissov, which rises its political value.
Mareshki chose carefully the moment for his stunt. GERB is shaken by internal cracks in the Borissov-Tzvetanov relationship, because of their different attitudes towards DPS. Tsvetanov pushes the parliamentary party of GERB to deepen the cooperation with the Turkish minority party. GERB voted a change in the election law, which deprived the Bulgarians of the possibility to vote preferentially. The proposal was made by DPS which has been fighting against the preferential voting for years. Borissov forced his party to return the preferential vote because in his perspective this would harm GERB just before the European elections.
Immediately thereafter, the GERB parliamentary group announced that the huge debts of the Grand Mufti, which maintains close ties with DPS, would be paid by state funds. Borissov intervened again because the announcement fueled serious uproar in society. GERB reversed its decision, granting a loan rather that footing the bill. But Mareshki was able to show how important his group was in such context.
This was a stress test for Borissov. He had taken distance from DPS before the elections because of this party’s negative image in society. At the same time the cost of DPS’s support is steadily rising. This process cannot last too long and has the potential to trigger early elections.