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Bulgaria: Demonstrations Likely As Socialists Take Mandate To Govern

  • Ron Synovitz



Sofia, 28 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The embattled Bulgarian Socialist Party today accepted a mandate from President Petar Stoyanov to form a new government. Stoyanov, a member of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), had called upon the Socialists to refuse the mandate and accept immediate elections. But Socialist Prime Minister-designate Nikolai Dobrev refused to heed the request, saying that his new government would work for "the people and country."

In an apparent effort to placate the growing anger of street demonstrators, Dobrev said that violent confrontations would be "deadly for the country."

Opposition leaders reacted by warning of increased demonstrations and nationwide strikes. Political observers in Sofia say they fear that the likelihood of anti-Socialist riots is increasing.

Ivan Kostov, the leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) reacted to the news by saying that he and his supporters were "going to fight now." Kostov had previously told RFE/RL that there must not be any violence at demonstrations.

Hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians have been demonstrating across the country for the past three weeks to demand elections in order to replace the current Socialist majority in parliament. With hyper-inflation rapidly devaluating incomes, the demonstrators also are demanding trials for those Socialist politicians and pro-BSP businessmen who are accused of amassing personal fortunes while bringing the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

Jeered by hundreds of protesters as he left the president's office today, Dobrev called on all Bulgarians to back his efforts to save the country. But the tide of public opinion is clearly against the former Communists.

Protest marches and candlelight vigils have been staged even in small towns that were once considered to be "red fortresses." These provincial demonstrations continue despite protestors' fears that they will be sacked by their pro-BSP bosses for participating.

Diana Stoyanova, a demonstrator in the southeastern town of Haskovo, says that ethnic Turks, Romanies, hardline Communists, pro-Socialist farmers and opposition supporters are all trying to "find their personal way" to survive the spiral of hyper-inflation. Stoyanova said: "The hunger is what unites us. This is true for the whole country."

Despite the growing demand for immeditate elections, BSP leader Georgi Parvanov says a ballot before December would only destabilize the country further.

The BSP officially controls a majority of 125 seats in the 240 seat parliament. But political analyst Ivan Krastev says there are many "political, social and moral" issues that will make it difficult for Dobrev to to dig the country out of its economic crisis.

Labor leaders have already called for a national strike that is expected to be a disaster for the crippled economy.

Ultimately, Krastev says, democratic order is threatened because a majority of the people are losing faith in the idea that bad government can be changed without violence.

Krastev says the Socialists need a way to avoid touching off violence and, at the same time, focus on the next parliamentary elections.

Immediate popular election has never been a realistic strategy for the Socialists because it would likely remove them from power. Krastev says one possible way out is to stage a "symbolic" vote in which the BSP splits its parliamentary majority. Krastev says this would allow the party to "save face."

Andrei Raichev, a leading former Communist who quit the Socialist Party earlier this month, told RFE/RL that a split BSP vote is a likely outcome.

Yet all of Parvanov's public statements during the past week indicate that he wants the Socialists to continue govern the country with its current parliamentary majority until December.

Two Socialist deputies already have said they would vote against a proposal for any Socialist-led government. Between 10 and 15 Socialist deputies could follow that lead.

But George Ganchev, the leader of an eight-member parliamentary group called the Bulgarian Business Bloc, said Saturday that his group would support a "compromise cabinet" that includes two or three ministers from his party.

Opposition leader Kostov says the Socialists can only win parliamentary approval for a new cabinet with the cooperation of Ganchev's group.

Two Socialist deputies already have said they would vote against a proposal for any Socialist-led government. Between 10 and 15 Socialist deputies could follow that lead.

But George Ganchev, the leader of an eight-member parliamentary group called the Bulgarian Business Bloc, said Saturday that his group would support a "compromise cabinet" that includes two or three ministers from his party.

Opposition leader Kostov says the Socialists can only win parliamentary approval for a new cabinet with the cooperation of Ganchev's group.
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