When protests succeed: Bulgarian street anger claims another victory

When protests succeed: Bulgarian street anger claims another victory
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The Bulgarian parliament has formally cancelled the controversial appointment of businessman and MP Delyan Peevski as the new head of the State Agency for National Security (ДАНС or DANS), the Bulgarian secret service.

All 128 deputies present in the Assembly voted unanimously to reverse the controversial designation that had provoked protests against the current government, just three weeks after it took power.

His rushed appointment – he was nominated, voted through and sworn in in a single afternoon – had sparked numerous protests all over Bulgaria since last Friday.

These street demonstrations have continued every day since then. On Tuesday police arrested nine people for possession of bladed weapons and provocations directed against the agents, the security forces said.

Over 7,000 protesters took to the streets in Sofia on Tuesday for a rally, according to police. It was the fifth straight day of protests. The rally was peaceful, despite attempts by marginal nationalist groups to provoke protesters, media reported.

See our story: Wanna #ДАНСwithme? How Bulgarian protesters are winning the social media battle

Apologies and a voting law reform

In an attempt to appease the ongoing massive protests, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski apologised on Wednesday for last week’s appointment of Peevski, according to English-language Bulgarian news agency Novonite. However, Oresharski once again refused to resign.

“I made a political mistake, for which I apologise not only to you, but to the thousands of people who took to the streets to protest,” the PM told Parliament. “They called for my resignation and I heard that clearly,” he said. But he ruled out stepping down, as he said it would be “the easiest decision” and would lead to a “bigger political crisis”.

Looking for a way to calm the anger on the streets, Bulgaria’s Socialists, in power for only three weeks at the head of a fragile government, have also promised on June 18 to reform the electoral law, one of the protesters’ demands.

With its mainstream parties discredited in public eyes by the perception that they are either corrupt or soft on corruption, protesters are demanding a law that makes it easier for smaller citizens’ groups to get into parliament. They also want individual lawmakers to be more personally accountable to constituents.

“We will work to speed up changes … as having fair elections is a cause not only for the citizens but also for the democratic parties,” senior Socialist legislator Maya Manolova told non-government organisations in parliament.

Peevski, a controversial figure

According to Novonite, Peevski, who runs Bulgaria’s biggest newspaper and television group, was investigated for alleged corruption while serving as a Deputy Minister in the Socialist-led three-way coalition government (2005-2009), but was reinstated after the charges were dropped.

Local media reports that Peevski has also been granted access to top secret files three days before he was elected as head of State Agency for National Security DANS. It is unclear whether DANS had the legal grounds to grant him the access.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party and its coalition partner, the predominantly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS, to whom Peevski belongs), have declared that they will ask the Constitutional Court whether Peevski may be reinstated as lawmaker, Novonite reports. Peevski will not attend Parliament until the Constitutional Court’s ruling is announced.

What now for Bulgaria?

“I don’t expect an immediate resignation but it’s clear that, without public trust and shaky parliamentary support, it will be hard for it to manage,” said Tsvetozar Tomov, a political analyst at the independent pollster Skala quoted by Reuters. “The government might hold on until the spring at the latest, and I think we could have fresh polls this year,” he said.

Another analyst interviewed by Reuters, Otilia Simkova of the political risk consultancy Eurasia, said the protests had shown that last month’s snap election had failed to mollify the street: “While it would be difficult to push through a vote of no confidence in Oresharski’s government at the moment, the government is likely to face strong and vocal parliamentary opposition as well as noisy public scrutiny of its decisions.”

The previous, centre-right GERB government was forced to resign in February after mass protests over low living standards and a failure to tackle graft. It returned to parliament as the biggest party but failed to secure a functioning majority, leaving the Socialists to cobble together a minority government.

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