I'd honestly forgotten how annoying he is. But, listening to Boyko Borissov admonishing his political peers and the electorate through his Facebook stream on Wednesday, it all came back. The last time he was jabbing his finger this way was back in 2021, when standing next to an SUV in the falling snow, he claimed to be "offering peace" to his opponents.
He looked depressed and confused back then, an autocrat with his back to the wall, after a year of protests and setbacks and facing his first political defeat in a decade.
How things have changed.
On Wednesday Borissov was not (yet) the self-confident and almighty ruler of old but neither was he confused or marginalised anymore. "Let them present their terms and we can discuss them, otherwise we'll make a government on our own. And they will be liable for any instability," he said confidently. He even magnanimously offered to "withdraw" his mayoral candidates in some cities for the local elections, if "this is what's important for them".
Yes, we have completed a full circle and after the elections last weekend, GERB leader holds all the cards again.
As I predicted last week, Borissov now has a clear path to power. He would rather play along with the Democratic Bulgaria - We Continue the Change coalition, because that would be the full triumph he craves: simultaneously an amnesty for his past and carte blanche for the future, inside and outside the country. But true to style, he's not doing any "Mea culpa", so this leaves the DB-WCC hardly any room for maneuver.
But Borissov can afford it, because of his second, still workable option: to form a coalition with BSP and MRF (the so-called paper coalition, or coalition of the status quo). Not openly of course, but under the guise of "expert government". Many people (from GERB and outside of it) told me this week this would be "a no-go" as it would cost too much and might damage their standing before the local elections. As I've postulated before, those are manageable downsides to his primary objective - returning to power.
If you don't believe me, listen to him - Borissov hinted it, by noting that "a workable coalition at central level will mean success at local level" before reaching out to the remaining two parties - the Pro-Russian anti-EU Vazhrazdane, and the TISP party, which is back in Parliament.
So here's the trap he's set for the DB-WCC. They can enter into a coalition and be chewed and spat out, just like every other coalition partner of GERB, or they can stand aside and watch as he grabs the levers again, hoping for a rematch. It looks (and sounds) a lot like 2017 and we just might be facing yet another 4-year term for Borissov. First, it was Borissov who was isolated, now it's the turn of his main nemesis.
This certainly marks a game and a set for the old dog. It's not a match, yet. But the wind of change seems to be dying down.
This newsletter is helped by
Martin Dimitrov & Evgeni Ahmadzai
Politics this week:So, the takeaways from the 2 April vote:
- GERB won most Bulgarian regions - 23, while MRF remained the leading force in 5 of its traditional strongholds (Silistra, Razgrad, Shumen, Targovishte and Kardzhali). WCC-DB led in only three regions - Sofia-city, Plovdiv and Ruse;
- MRF must know its voters by name by now as it nailed down the number to almost exactly the same (+1000 votes). GERB managed to add around 35 thousand and the big loser was WCC-DB with around 70 thousand votes fewer than their combined tally last time.
- The Russophiles from Vazrazhdane, the big winners of the vote, improved their result by a staggering 40% compared to October 2022, to 358,000. Where did these 100,000 new votes come from? According to pollsters, 30,000 of these were disenchanted WCC voters and 30,000 more came from those who didn't cast a ballot last year;
- The "I do not support anyone" option would have entered parliament with about 4.5% of the vote, overtaking Slavi Trifnov's TISP. This strange option on the ballot is a legacy of the 2016 change of the election code that made voting compulsory, but without any penalties for not voting, and has become a popular choice for disenchanted voters ever since;
- The return of the paper ballot did not help the parties that fought for it so badly - especially BSP, which managed to lose 7,000 additional votes compared to October 2022. On the other hand, the comeback of the classic voting tool revived the overnight piles of ballots confronting tired election administration members, 90% of election protocols full of mistakes and, generally, wrecked the nerves of everyone involved in the election process. Oh, and 60% of voters stuck to machine voting, despite fear-mongering about electronic election theft by the "paper ballot" coalition;
- How did Bulgarians abroad vote? MRF maintained first place, receiving about 40% of the votes casted outside Bulgaria - predominately in Turkey, improving its result by almost 8,400 votes compared to the October 2022 elections. The other big winner was Vazrazhdane, which continues growing abroad, winning 3,400 additional votes, which came especially from France and Spain.
Hello, Yellow brick road
The European Prosecution office announced that it is investigating corruption and fraud in the two procedures for the renovation of the area around the Alexander Nevsky square - the famous "yellow cobblestones" part of Sofia.
The municipality has already paid 6 million levs to a contractor and then terminated the agreement because it decided to redo the project, for which the work had already been awarded. It then entered into an agreement with a new contractor, but the terms remained the same, EPPO claims. This might not sound like a big deal, but it just might trip the already shaking foundations of GERB power in Sofia.
Economy:And hello to you, too, Lukoil - we didn't see you over thereThe Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC), which has remained dormant over Lukoil-Bulgaria's dominance in the country, broke a personal record this week, as it suddenly fined two companies of the Russian oil giant. The fines amount to almost 200 million leva and spring from Lukoil's control of most fuel depots nationwide.
It's the biggest fine ever handed out by the CPC and it's also probably the most delayed one, since Lukoil acquired some of those depots (of what used to be Petrol company) some 15 years ago. The question is: why is this happening now, right after the elections and after another fine levied on the group worth 70 million leva?
690 million leva
The state budget cash deficit as of March, which now amounts to 0.4% of the projected GDP for the year according to preliminary data from the Ministry of Finance. The result stems from a much faster growth of expenditure (by nearly 27%) compared to that of revenues (18%).
The average growth in Bulgarian salaries for the second half of 2022 according to Bulgarian statistics, which is almost three times higher than the 5.8% rise of the EU average.
The Bulgarian fintech startup has been sold to French leader Ingenico for an undisclosed sum, the two companies announced on 1 April. Established in Sofia six years ago, Phos works in the field of Software Point of Sale (SoftPoS) solutions, offering technology that turns any Android smartphone or tablet into a POS terminal.
The largest online retailer on the Bulgarian market is entering the courier services segment with its brand Sameday, which will compete for the delivery of online purchases with the established leaders Econt and Speedy.
ENERGY Chiren expansion to commence after GBS wins bid
The key expansion of the gas storage in Chiren can now commence after Bulgartransgaz officially signed a 221 million levs contract with a consortium led by the leading Bulgarian construction firm GBS on 5 April. The contract is for the design, construction and commissioning of ten new production and three observation wells.
The storage expansion will look like this: 300 million levs for the aboveground part, which includes the construction of a new compressor station; 220 million for the underground part and 83 million for the gas pipeline linking the extension of the storage facility to the gas system. Or a total of just over BGN 600 million. The project is expected to be completed by mid-2025.
Just two months ago it was expected that the contract would have been awarded to the consortium Chiren Drilling 2022 , which included Atomenergoremont linked to businessman Hristo Kovatchki. But the Kovatchki-linked consortium backed out and the runner-up from GBS took the procurement. It happened right after the European prosecution entered some companies from Kovatchki's empire.
BRUSSELSJudicial cooperation: The Commission has proposed rules on the transfer of criminal proceedings between Member States. This will help prevent duplications of proceedings and avoid cases of impunity where surrender under a European Arrest Warrant is refused. Furthermore, it will help ensure that criminal proceedings are conducted in the best-placed Member State, for example, in the State where the worst part of the crime occurred. Eventually, this could also help, for example, to extradite corrupt Romanian politicians with a jail sentence or help to prosecute Bulgarian ones abroad more efficiently, in those cases where there is always not enough evidence for that here...
The EGF's support has been facilitated and adjusted to smaller EU Member States- The European Globalisation Fund helps displaced workers to reintegrate and gain new skills following companies' closures. In the new programming period, the Fund is cutting red tape and is offering simplified procedures for new applications. Bulgaria has never benefited from this fund. In more than 15 years the country has submitted only one application for the bankrupt Kremikovtsi plant - back in 2009, which was rejected.
WATCH OUT FORPerson:
The undisputed queen of preference voting from GERB won a staggering 10,155 personal votes in the 2 April election, second only to her party's leader Boyko Borissov in Sofia and WCC's Kiril Petkov. The delectable Ms Tocheva is from Varna and worked as a hostess prior to her entry into politics. An investigation has been launched, with the suspicion that those preferences on the ballots act as a "receipt" for local vote-dealers.
The European prosecutor still searches for 7 more prosecutors from Bulgaria, after rejecting yet another candidate, nominated by the prosecution wing of the Supreme Judicial Council.
Fund of funds
The state-owned Fund of Funds, which controls over 1,3 billion levs dedicated to investment in innovation and startups, will change its board of directors shortly before it will also change the board of supervisors, who are the ones that will be selecting the future governors. This quick and nontransparent move, orchestrated by caretaker innovations minister Alexander Pulev, has attracted criticism from the innovation sector.
One of the leading events organized by Economedia and Capital returns soon for its 2023 edition, dedicated to people, innovation and technology breakthroughs that will drive humanity and businesses forward. Save the date and don't forget to sign up!
Here it is: your zen of the week If you are tired of political talk and just want to rest, we wish you Happy (Catolic) Easter holiday with those birds nesting. As for us, we will be celebrating Orthodox Easter next week, so see you again after that.