July 15. 2024. 8:15

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Experts concerned by rise of US-sanctioned ‘strongman’ in Bulgaria

While recent parliamentary and European elections in Bulgaria were won by former prime minister Boyko Borissov’s centre-right GERB (EPP) party, second place went to the DPS party, headed by Deylan Peevski, a former media mogul sanctioned for corruption by the US and the UK authorities.

His participation in the new government became virtually inevitable as his ALDE-affiliated DPS party won a record-high 17.07% of the vote, second to GERB with 24.7%, though he may not be a truly desirable partner for Borissov.

Political analyst Teodor Slavev told Euractiv that Borissov was in a difficult situation, having to govern with a man who is officially on the Magnitsky sanctions list. In 2022, the US sanctioned the former media mogul under the Magnitsky Act for corruption, and the UK later sanctioned him as well.

Moreover, Slavev said, Borissov was now faced with a new “strongman” and he did not like that.

“This is not prestigious. Borissov likes to be addressed as a dignified leader when he goes around the world, and Peevski will always be attached to his image,” Slavev said.

Speaking to Euractiv, Dimitar Ganev, a leading political analyst at the Trend polling agency, said Borissov would try to form a broad government with as much political representation as possible.

“Peevski’s formal influence is already huge. DPS will have more than 45 MPs (out of 240) and GERB about 20 more. Half the power in Sofia is already his,” Ganev said.

He also pointed out that the DPS and its leader were on a winning streak.

“The goal [of Peevski] was to achieve a higher result, and he achieved it. The second goal was for DPS to become a legitimate partner in power. Peevski achieved his goals,” Ganev noted.

Even before the election, Peevski’s political opponents complained that he wielded enormous informal power in the EU’s poorest country. Now, as the second largest party, he and the DPS will have access to a significant amount of formal power.

US cleans up Bulgarian mafia

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three Bulgarians for corruption in Bulgaria, as well as their networks encompassing 64 entities.

The move was part of the largest Global Magnitsky action taken in a …

In recent years, Peevski has pitched himself as an unwavering Euro-Atlanticist, as opposed to pro-Russian forces such as the far-right ‘Vazrazhdane‘.

He said he saw his DPS as “the foundation and guarantor that Bulgaria will not deviate from its Euro-Atlantic path”, with the main threat, in his words, coming from pro-Russian President Rumen Radev, “who wants to hand the country over to Putin.”

Meanwhile, Peevski took the initiative to urge Borissov and GERB to start negotiations to form a cabinet with the Euro-Atlantic forces in parliament on Wednesday.

The other “Euro-Atlantic” party, a coalition between ‘We Continue the Change’ and ‘Democratic Bulgaria’ (PP-DB), which won 14.4%, announced they would remain in opposition.

Thus, the only option for GERB and DPS to forge a viable coalition is with ‘There is Such a People’ (ITN), a populist party founded by former TV showman Slavi Trifonov, which obtained 6% and is not yet part of a European political family.

Ganev said GERB and DPS would form the core of the next Bulgarian government, but the inclusion of other parties was intended to demonstrate an attempt to create a government of “national unity”.

He also expects the country’s main foreign policy priorities to remain the same – achieving full Schengen membership, joining the eurozone, and supporting Ukraine.

Game changer?

At the same time, a new contender for the future government has emerged in Sofia – the pro-Russian Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP/S&D), which has previously opposed cooperation with GERB.

In five years, the BSP has gone from being the country’s second political force, with 25% support, to a party in danger of being excluded from parliament.

Kornelia Ninova, the long-serving BSP leader, resigned on Tuesday, opening the way for a change in the party’s coalition policy. Ninova had resisted repeated attempts to join a coalition with GERB.

“It is possible to support a cabinet as long as it corresponds to our views,” BSP deputy chairman Atanas Zafirov told Nova TV. He is one of the contenders to become the party’s new leader following Ninova’s resignation.

Asked if the BSP would support a government formed by GERB, Zafirov indicated that this was not a problem.

“I am deeply convinced that the [GERB-led] government should be supported, if possible, by all political forces in parliament. This is the better option. New elections risk a total delegitimisation of the Bulgarian parliament and the birth of real political monsters,” Zafirov added.

Read more with Euractiv

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