Bulgarian Parliament Approves New Prime Minister

from The New York Times..

By Matthew Brunwasser

May 30, 2013

The Bulgarian Parliament on Wednesday narrowly voted in a new technocratic government to be led by Plamen Oresharski, a 53-year-old former finance minister who is regarded as competent and nonpartisan, in an attempt to move Bulgaria forward after inconclusive elections this month.

The new prime minister, who is best known perhaps for introducing a 10 percent flat tax, called for more social solidarity, “urgent measures” to stabilize the economy and government.

“The country is in a deep institutional crisis, continuing economic depression and worsening disintegration of society,” Mr. Oresharski told the plenary hall of Parliament during the four-hour debate before the vote on his government.

His election by Parliament was preceded by elections on May 12 that were called after angry nationwide street protests set off by spiking electricity prices forced the resignation of his predecessor, Prime Minister Boiko Borisov. Though Mr. Borisov’s party, GERB, was the biggest winner in the national elections, it was unable to find a governing partner.

Mr. Oresharski’s government was formed by the second-largest vote winner, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the former Communists. The junior coalition partner is the ethnic Turkish party. Together they hold 120 seats, precisely half the 240-seat chamber.

Mr. Oresharski was approved only because of the abstention in the vote by the 23 members of Parliament from the far-right Ataka party, which said it opposed the government but also opposed new elections.

The new ministers are seen as dominated by the Socialist Party. One minister was replaced at the last minute after environmentalists threatened street protests.

The new deputy prime minister, Zinaida Zlatanova, also the new justice minister in charge of European funds, formerly headed the European Commission Representation in Sofia.

Ms. Zlatanova’s position in the cabinet is seen as a bid for support from Brussels, which has criticized Bulgaria for years for failing to overhaul its judicial system or improve oversight of E.U. funds.

“It’s good that we have a government but bad that we are hostages of the nationalists,” said Kiril Avramov, a political scientist at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia.

He attributes the nationalists’ rising power to the vacuum created by the collapse of Bulgaria’s traditional rightist parties and the prestige that Ataka now enjoys from sparing the country the agony of new elections.

Mr. Avramov called the government “a hotchpotch of a cabinet” and hopes that it addresses the country’s two main issues: social unrest and abuse of power by state institution seen as nonrepresentative and corrupt.

While the disparate interests represented in the government may well turn out to be unworkable, Mr. Avramov says that at the moment no political party has an interest in new elections. He expects the political recalculations to start next year, during preparations for European Parliament elections next May 25.

Among businesspeople in Bulgaria the expectations for good governance by Mr. Oresharski are high, said Neven Dilkov, managing director of Neterra Communications, an international telecom based in Sofia. But Mr. Dilkov said there were concerns about the populist political interests of the parties supporting Mr. Oresharski. Campaigning by candidates from the Bulgarian Socialist Party caused concerns, Mr. Dilkov said, because they spoke openly about increasing state involvement in the economy and introducing progressive taxation.

“Bulgaria’s flat tax and financial stability are the key attractions to doing business here,” he said.

Foreign investors in Bulgaria also expect Mr. Oresharski’s expertise to raise the level of competence from that of the government of Mr. Borisov, said Kenneth Lefkowitz, an adviser to foreign investors at New Europe Corporate Advisory in Sofia.

Mr. Lefkowitz also said he expected the fragility of the new coalition government to encourage good governance.

“Any false move will put them out of power, so they have to be very focused and competent,” he said. “They have strong competitive pressure to govern competently.”

In the Balkans, governments with large minorities “tend to misbehave and indulge in all sorts of bad practices,” Mr. Lefkowitz said. “It’s a good thing that there is no margin of error,” he said.

Link to the article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/world/europe/bulgarian-parliament-names-plamen-oresharski-prime-minister.html?ref=europe&_r=0

A version of this article appeared in print on May 30, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune.
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