A commentary by Krassen Nikolov
“I do not feel punished because no one can punish me.” This was the comment of the former leader of the GERB parliamentary group, Tzvetan Tzvetanov, after he resigned from the National Assembly. He left his MP position because of the ‘Apartment’ scandal that took the ruling party GERB by storm. Tzvetanov is still a key figure in the party and continues to lead its election campaign.
Is Tzvetanov really punished for the suspicious deal which made him the owner of a new luxury apartment in Sofia in June 2018 in a cash-and-property-swap deal, brokered by a private construction firm, at prices well below the market?
No, he is not. His influence in the party and in the country has not decreased even though he is not a MP any more. He remains in politics and has enormous influence on the structures of GERB. Most of the GERB MPs are loyal to him. So Tzvetanov will continue to exercise his power although a as an éminence grise.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov made a show reacting to Tzvetanov’s comment. He exclaimed: “How can he say that there is no one to punish him. God can punish us, people can punish us. I can punish him too!”
Rightly so. These are the only possible options for punishment in Bulgaria – God, the voters and the prime minister. The justice system is not mentioned. Society does not believe in it. The still ongoing monitoring of Bulgaria by the European Commission under the so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism shows that the EU executive has no faith in the country’s justice too.
The problem is that the options listed by Borissov are not very certain. Waiting for God’s punishment is in the category of metaphysics. Borissov himself will not punish Tzvetanov, unless the Prime Minister decides to reform in GERB upside down – something he doesn’t want to do. So the voters remain the only who can punish Tzvetanov. Voting in the European elections is the only way for society to react to the perception of widespread high-level corruption in the country.
“We usually obtain the Bulgaria we vote for. Let’s not blame the parties. All these people get elected because WE vote for them,” commented the world-famous Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev in an interview for Radio Free Europe. He added that Bulgarians have an extremely negative opinion about the motivation of those who decide to enter politics.
“So we come to the conclusion the Belgians made long ago: “When the disgustеd would have gone, the disgusting would remain,” Krastev said.
Record-breaking voter turnout?
Last week, Mediana polling agency published a survey that predicted a good turnout in the European elections in Bulgaria. Over 80% of respondents said that these elections were important, and 70% signaled their intention to vote. The reason is that the majority of voters perceive these elections as a solution to the domestic problems of the country – kind of vote of (non) confidence in the executive power. Nearly 70% see the ‘Apartment’ scandal as a vivid example of high-level abuse of power.
Scandals make the elections unpredictable. GERB’s sympathizers have shrunk to the so-called “hard core. In this situation, BSP managed to get ahead of the GERB/SDS coalition by about half a percentage point – 32.1% for the BSP vs. 31.5% for GERB/SDS, according to the Mediana survey.
BSP also has problems. The scandals with the nomination of Sergei Stanishev as a MEP have shaken the party. Most of the BSP sympathizers (66%) think that the PES president should be in the party’s election list, and only 12% are against that. The National Council of the party has overruled the intention of BSP leader Kornelia Ninova to remove Stanishev from the list. As a result, he was placed fifth, which is an eligible place. Some of the candidates nominated by Ninova were kicked out.
Voting is the only way to respond to the political scandals in BSP as well. Socialist sympathizers can effectively use the preferential voting to rearrange the party’s list and elect MEPs whom they really like.