site.btaMedia Review: March 5

Media Review: March 5
Media Review: March 5
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UPCOMING CABINET ROTATION

Tuesday's news media speculate about the upcoming rotation of the power-sharing coalitions expected on March 6 when Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov, nominated by Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB), and Deputy Prime Minister Mariya Gabriel from GERB-UDF are to switch places.

GERB is holding a national meeting on Tuesday at which GERB leader Boyko Borissov will present a draft agreement with CC-DB for the remaining three years until the end of Parliament's four-year term.

The Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) quoted Borissov as saying CC-DB's proposed memorandum is part of GERB's draft document, which focuses on the judicial reform and the distribution of posts in the regulators and the Council of Ministers based on the number of MPs. According to Borissov, March 8 is a key date for reaching understanding between the two coalitions; without it, the resignation of the Denkov cabinet will be accepted and elections will be held.

Trud says that reportedly, CC-DB could submit the government's resignation to Parliament late on Tuesday, instead of Wednesday, so as to make sure it is put on the MPs' agenda for the week. Reportedly, CC-DB also hope the resignation will be put to the vote while Borissov, Mariya Gabriel and GERB MEPs are attending a European People's Party congress in Bucharest on March 6-7. Lawyers told the daily that it is up to Parliament Chair Rosen Zhelyazkov (from GERB) to decide when the resignation will be put to the vote as there is no set deadline.

Trud reports that CC-DB would accept an agreement, though not one named a coalition agreement, and a new rotation would take place in nine months if the government survived. A survey commissioned by CC-DB reportedly found that concurrent parliamentary and European elections would be better for that coalition, which is why they would not be too worried if a Gabriel cabinet failed to be formed.

GERB and CC-DB are also arguing when the rotation of the Parliament leader should take place: before the government's rotation (CC-DB) or after it (GERB), Trud says. If Atanas Atanasov from Democratic Bulgaria heads Parliament before Denkov and Gabriel switch posts, he will be the first option for a caretaker prime minister, judging from a recent statement by President Rumen Radev.

Regardless of their differences, GERB and CC-DB will reach agreement, according to several experts approached by Trud. Political analyst Stoycho Stoychev says GERB and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms would not accept CC-DB's condition that the line-up of the anti-corruption commission should be voted first so as to have their nominees approved, because CC-DB could opt for early elections afterwards. Likewise, CC-DB is unlikely to accept GERB's ambition to nominate half of the ministers in a cabinet headed by Gabriel. It is more likely to have a line-up similar to the Denkov cabinet plus one more minister nominated by GERB, Stoychev said. GERB proposed a coalition agreement, while CC-DB proposed a memorandum, which is essentially a glorified coalition agreement. If the two documents are merged, they can result in an agreement on joint government, which is what the public expects to see.

Constitutional Court Judge Yanaki Stoilov told Trud there is no set deadline for the government's resignation to be debated in plenary. Prof Plamen Kirov concurred that it is up to the Parliament leader to decide when the government's resignation will be put to the vote. This could be done after March 8. By Constitution, as soon as the resignation is voted, the President can start consultations with the parliamentary parties. Once they are completed, the President hands over a cabinet-forming mandate to a person nominated by the largest parliamentary group, in this case GERB.

Yavor Bozhankov MP of CC-DB told BNR that new elections would not change the picture dramatically: perhaps the same people will hold the same talks as now, at a much higher price for the country. "We are faced with huge tasks and to solve them we need to be able to trust the judiciary, to elect a new Supreme Judicial Council, to be sure that the new anti-corruption commission is functioning - all this depends on electing people with impeccable reputation and indisputable integrity," Bozhankov said.

Interviewed by segabg.com, Dimitar Ganev from Research Agency Trend says it was a mistake that GERB and CC-DB did not sign a coalition agreement from the start. CC-DB expected that they would pass what is actually a coalition government as a Euro-Atlantic government supported by GERB. Using PR tactics, they tried to distance themselves from the real coalition relations. However, major communication scandals flared up due to the lack of a regulated decision-making process. CC-DB's proposed memorandum is an agreement under a different name; CC-DB are still afraid to admit they are in a coalition.

Interviewed by Bulgarian National Television (BNT), constitutional law expert Natalia Kiselova said it is more likely the two coalitions will reach agreement. This government was formed in order to end the political crisis and the way they work towards an agreement will show whether this country has started to emerge from the political crisis. In her view, it would be in bad taste to debate the government's resignation while GERB leader and floor leader Boyko Borissov and GERB MPs are abroad. This would be a media-fuelled attempt to jockey for position in the negotiations on a GERB-led government for the coming months.

In a bTV interview, former interior minister Rumyana Bachvarova said the power-sharing coalitions had sent the EU countries a message that there will not be a government. She commented that the parties had failed to discuss things so far and that planning for nine-month periods did not give big decision making a chance.

DOMESTIC POLITICS

Assoc. Prof. Nikolay Dimitrov, a social psychologist, says in a 24 Chasa interview that the nation is more divided than before over the celebration of Bulgaria's National Day on March 3. Tensions have mounted against the backdrop of Russia's war against Ukraine and disputes on whether an event other than the liberation as a result of the Russo-Turkish war should be chosen for Bulgaria's national day. Dimitrov is sceptical both about President Radev's chances of leading a party and about a second rotation of the government after the one in March. Radev would not want a party headed by someone else while he is President; still, once his term ends, he will not be so much in the limelight to address the voters. As for the government rotation, GERB and Borissov will propose something to please above all the external players because the government depends on their support for its survival, not on players inside the power-sharing coalitions. Externa factors are still interested in supporting the government, at least for a few more months. The important things which must be completed are the judicial reform, the appointments to the regulators and the anti-corruption commission, and the future of the prosecutor general.

JUDICIAL SYSTEM

Interviewed by BNT, Boyko Naydenov, former director of the National Investigation Service and former deputy prosecutor general, said that over a month after the murder of Martin "Notary" Bozhanov in Sofia, there is no information on the progress of the investigation. Commissions were set up to look into allegations that pressure was exerted on magistrates, but the only body that can solve this problem is the prosecution service, which is itself part of the judiciary.

Ekaterina Baksanova, a legal expert at the Institute for Market Economics, told BNR that the number of judges' recusals is alarming. In three years, there were 4,500 disqualifications and 37,000 recusals (on the judges' own initiative). She said this was extremely alarming as the instrument of recusal seemed to be misused. In the first two months of 2024, there were 2,000 recusals, most of them self-removals from cases, according to the public register. Talking about the February 29 arrest of Ilko Zahariev, suspected of issuing threats to magistrates and public figures, Baksanova said a person with a mental condition had been re-victimized by the State, which is supposed to care for vulnerable people.

BTA reported on March 3 that Zahariev's lawyer, Georgi Georgiev, described him as a harmless person, who finished the high school of mathematics with honours and studied architecture, and was arrested with three bags full of books. According to Georgiev, the man has a form of autism and was not involved in threatening judge Vladislava Tsarigradska, Deputy Prime Minister Gabriel and ministers as claimed by the police. Zahariev has not been in contact with his parents for years. When the lawyer asked him if he needed something, the suspect asked for a book by Shakespeare. As to Zahariev's statement that he had found in a Sofia mall the phones allegedly used in sending the threats, the lawyer said they were found in the trash where such equipment is thrown away. The man often collects discarded batteries and phones in the area and hands them over. He does not care about money or possessions, the lawyer said. "I don't see how he would purchase smartphones and pay subscriptions. A serious investigation is needed to exculpate this man, at least because of his mental state, and also because he is not involved in the criminal acts," Georgiev told BTA.

FUEL PRICES

Last December the Bulgarian Parliament voted to end the processing of oil originating from Russia by the country's only oil refinery, Russian-controlled Lukoil Neftochim Burgas, as from March 1, 2024. Interviewed by Nova TV, Nikolay Nikolov, chair of the national association of small fuel retailers, said Lukoil still has Russian oil reserves but the impact of Brent oil on prices will certainly be felt. He expects a 20% to 30% price rise.

BULGARIA'S SCHENGEN ACCESSION

Trud frontpages a statement by Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner that Vienna will start considering the lifting of land border controls only after it sees the results of Bulgaria's entry in Schengen by air and sea on March 31. Meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart Kalin Stoyanov in Brussels, Karner said any other step would be rash and counterproductive. The Greens - the coalition partner of the Austrian People's Party - reacted by saying that Karner did not express the government's position.

EDUCATION

In Trud, Assoc. Prof. Todor Radev, President of the Association of Private Universities, comments on the Government's proposal to waive tuition fees for undergraduate and PhD students in state-owned universities enrolled in state-subsidized places. The proposed amendments to the Higher Education Act are subject to public consultation. Radev is adamant that even now competition in higher education is not encouraged in any way. University education is affordable now as any student can get a state-guaranteed loan and choose any major they want. Bulgaria, a small country, finances directly  and indirectly the rich economies of the West where its students find jobs. With the proposed step, Bulgaria will give the rich countries an extra BGN 200 million. Therefore, the State should take on the principal repayment and interest payments for all students who start working in Bulgaria and pay insurance contributions. Those who go abroad should repay their loans themselves so the money can fund the next generation of students who want to live and work in Bulgaria.

NORTH MACEDONIA'S PRESIDENTIAL RACE

Kostadin Filipov comments in Trud on what he refers to as the "Olympic race in Skopje". The main rivals in the April 24 presidential election, the incumbent Stevo Pendarovski backed by the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia and Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova backed by the opposition party, VMRO DPMNE, also ran for president in 2019. Pendarovski won at the time on the wave of resentment against the Nikola Gruevski regime. Polls now give a lead to VMRO-DPMNE in the concurrent parliamentary elections; the question is whether this would help Siljanovska. All other former Yugoslav republics have had women in the top positions, the journalist says, although he has doubts about this happening in the Republic of North Macedonia: "Knowing the patriarchal nature of society near the Vardar, this seems to me unlikely."

/DD/

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By 14:20 on 18.04.2024 Today`s news

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