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Bulgaria: Pirinski's Resignation Could Be Bid For Prime Minister's Post

Prague, 14 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Bulgarian Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski's resignation yesterday appears to be his first step in a bid to take over the prime minister's post from fellow Socialist Zhan Videnov.

When asked if he saw himself as Videnov's successor, Pirinski was quoted today by the official Socialist Party newspaper, "Duma," as saying that he doesn't rule out the possibility.

It has never been Pirinski's style to openly declare such political ambitions. But the context of recent speeches and interviews implies that Pirinski is sacrificing his cabinet post in a gambit to head the government.

It wouldn't be the first such calculated resignation for Pirinski. His appointment as foreign minister in 1995 came shortly after he had resigned as deputy chairman of the BSP parliamentary group, and from the executive committee of the BSP's Supreme Council.

Pirinski already has demonstrated that he has support from most lower-level BSP organizations across the country. This was apparent when the party selected him as its top candidate in the recent presidential elections.

During his two months of campaigning, Pirinski appeared likely to win the presidency. But a Constitutional Court barred the 48-year-old technocrat from the ballot because he is not a Bulgarian citizen by birth. There is no such citizenship requirement for the prime minister's office.

The BSP controls 125 of the 240 seats in parliament. Nevertheless, Videnov's tenure is threatened by divisions within the party as the country suffers its worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

The BSP rift has intensified since the October 2 assassination of Andrei Lukanov, the former Communist Party Central Committee member who helped seize power from dictator Todor Zhivkov in November, 1989.

In the renamed Socialist Party, Lukanov had been Videnov's most outspoken critic. Pirinski belongs to the BSP wing that was led by Lukanov.

Another of Lukanov's close allies, Andrei Raichev, told RFE/RL that a formal party split is now inevitable because of the defeat of BSP presidential candidate Ivan Marazov early this month.

Since the ballot, 19 leading Socialists have signed an open letter calling for Videnov's resignation.

Pirinski says he quit because Videnov no longer has enough support from the BSP electorate. He said he would work as a parliamentary deputy and would be active in preparations for an extraordinary party congress on December 21 and 22. Videnov's tenure looks set to be decided at that time.

In an emergency party session Monday, the BSP narrowly voted to support Videnov until the December congress. But Pirinski said the vote was not convincing enough.

Strict party discipline means anti-Videnov Socialists in parliament are likely to back him until the December congress.

If Videnov is forced to resign, the Socialist coalition would have an opportunity to name a new government. Early parliamentary elections would be called only if no successor can gather the necessary majority support from the legislature.

Ivan Kostov, the head of the main opposition Union of Democratic Forces, says he thinks Pirinski is strengthening his position as he tries to "climb to the peak of hierarchy."

By distancing himself from the government, Pirinski is in a better position to criticize Videnov and even orchestrate his ouster in December.

The leading opposition newspaper, "Demokratzia," forecasts today that Pirinski will first attack Videnov's position as BSP leader.

Videnov, a former leader in the Bulgarian communist youth organization Komsomol, represents the last generation of Bulgarians to be educated in Soviet Moscow.

Pirinski is connected with older forces. From 1980 to 1990, Pirinski had been the Deputy Minister of International Economic Relations and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers. He was a vice premier in Lukanov's cabinet in 1990.

Pirinski was born in New York in 1948 while his father was working there as a functionary for Moscow's Communist International. Pirinski's family was deported from the United States during the era of McCarthyism. In the 1970s, Pirinski married the daughter of the chief of Bulgaria's Communist-era secret police -- the Department for Safety and Security (UBO).

Another Socialist front-runner named as a possible successor to Videnov is Nikola Koychev, a member of the party's executive council and head of the BSP's local organization in Sofia.