Sofia, October 3, 2016/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Bulgaria now knows who will be the largest political party’s candidate in the November 2016 presidential elections, and the nomination of Tsetska Tsacheva has been seized on by rivals as a vulnerable choice.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, leader of centre-right party GERB, named Tsacheva – the 58-year-old two-time Speaker of the National Assembly – as his party’s candidate on October 2, just two days ahead of the deadline for registering candidates and some time after most other significant parties had named their nominees.
While a well-known figure because of her place in the presiding officer’s chair in Parliament since 2009, with a break in 2013/14, Tsacheva does not rank especially highly in public opinion polls. One of the most recent gave her an approval rating of about 27 per cent, not a bad figure but below some of GERB’s other possible choices.
Critics have not failed to point out that before the beginning of Bulgaria’s transition to democracy, Tsacheva was a member of the Bulgarian Communist Party, which – while not uncommon among a number of prominent latter-day right-wing politicians – may be used to seek to tarnish her credentials.
Tsacheva, a Sofia University graduate possessed of a sharp legal brain and who has worked in the private sector as an advocate, and who has been fairly even-handed in her role at the head of Parliament, on the other hand is not a particularly charismatic figure nor a particularly engaging orator.
There is the asset of her gender – Borissov, in announcing her candidacy, said that it was “high time to have a mother of the nation” – but GERB’s other possible candidates had the same asset, notably Sofia mayor Yordankda Fandukova, who also rates significantly higher in opinion polls.
Borissov said that his party had not chosen Fandukova so as not to disrupt the running of the capital city. Behind the scenes, talk is that Fandukova had declined to be the party’s candidate, in spite of repeated approaches.
In a television interview on October 3, Tsacheva said that she would treat all her rivals with respect, but if slanders and lies were hurled against her, she would not simply smile.
She said that her ambition was to get out support for her party, even among people who had voted against GERB.
“I’d be worried if there were no comments about me and I am not ashamed of anything in my biography,” Tsacheva said.
This included her membership of the Bulgarian Communist Party, because such were the times, she said. She said that she had not been a senior nomenklatura figure.
Kornelia Ninova, leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, said that Tsacheva was the most convenient candidate for the BSP, and that the first time, GERB looked weak.
The Tsacheva nomination was the beginning of the end for GERB, Ninova said.
Roumen Radev, the candidate of an “initiative committee” but in effect the BSP candidate for president, described Tsacheva as a projection of Borissov, “it’s Borissov in a skirt and spectacles,” he said, while adding that GERB’s strength was not in individuals but in the party’s election machine.
Radan Kanev, leader of minority opposition party the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, part of the centre-right Reformist Bloc, said that the end of the wait for GERB to announce its presidential and vice-presidential candidates had not changed anything.
Kanev said that in the past 10 years, Tsacheva had not held a clear reformist position.
He said that there were many important issues facing Bulgarian foreign policy – the Belene nuclear power station issue, the future of Bulgaria’s position on the Russian annexation of Crimea – as well as judicial reform, the President’s right of veto, the President’s right to seek constitutional changes.
“On none of these issues have I seen clear, crisp reformist positions from Mrs Tsacheva,” Kanev said.
“Unfortunately, the only thing I’ve seen is her complying with the party line, to the extent we cannot know what her personal opinion is,” he said.
GERB had corrected the “mistake” it had made five years ago when it nominated Rossen Plevneliev, then a minister in Borissov’s Cabinet. Kanev was referring to Plevneliev having taken on an independent political life of his own. Now, Kanev said, GERB had nominated a classic “soldier of the party” – something very inappropriate in presidential elections.
Meanwhile, with official campaigning starting on October 6 – though in effect most of the candidates already have embarked on the campaign trail – the Tsacheva nomination has prompted several parties and coalitions to claim that her vulnerabilities mean that there will be a runoff round.
It is not yet clear how many candidates will be in the race, but at the first round, a figure somewhere between 10 and 20 is likely. One media report said that, if every “initiative committee”, party and coalition was counted, the number could rise as high as 30.
The factor that rivals will have to beat is not only, as Radev claimed, the GERB election machine, but also that one poll – ahead of the announcement of Tsacheva’s name – said that such was the electoral support for GERB, whoever it nominated would win.