AIM: start

FRI, 06 JUL 2001 01:41:34 GMT

Ivan Kostov Resigned as SDS President

For the first time in last four years the ruling party seriously undermined by its defeat at parliamentary elections.

AIM Sofia, June 25, 2001

There was not way for the defeat of the Alliance of Democratic Forces (SDS) at parliamentary elections in Bulgaria to pass without serious shocks. Long-accumulated criticism and opinions against the rule of Ivan Kostov came to the surface just as the election results were being announced - the SDS won slightly over 18 percent of votes. The internal party opposition started mobilising, not with the objective of disintegrating SDS, but rather in order to call someone to account for the situation in this organisation.

The leader, Ivan Kostov was the one called to account. The first Prime Minister who completed his term of rule after democratic changes in 1989 was forced to resign from the leading position in his party. These are the rules of the game - when you lose you leave. Irrespective of this, the change was not an easy one. Aside from demands for the opening of party leading positions to new faces and new ideas, Kostov will keep the control because his right-hand person - the hitherto chief of the SDS delegate group, Ekaterina Mihajlova was elected his successor. The change of leader, but not of politics - is the basic conclusion of post-electoral changes. Kostov remains a powerful man, but now in the shadow.

The electoral defeat was a long-missing catalyst that prevented the SDS from hearing the voice of its inter-party opposition. In recent years this party was a symbol of democratic changes in Bulgaria, which turned the internal discipline into a cult and a nightmare for all those unlike-minded. Hristo Biserov, the until recent SDS Secretary General, and Jordan Conev, member of the National Executive Committee (NEC), were hardest hit by party censorship. Both were expelled from party ranks when they tried to express their disagreement with Ivan Kostov on the SDS's policy.

Now, when SDS members have experienced the heaviest defeat since they appeared on the political scene, there is a realistic possibility to hear dissenting opinions. Circles around the Mayor of Sofia, Stefan Sofijanski, and the President of the state, Petar Stojanov were first to demand the leader's resignation. Both did it from their top political positions and in line with their consistent engagement in the SDS.

"Remember 1994, the first day after the elections when the entire leadership withdrew: Filip Dimitrov, Evgeni Mihajlov, Asen Agov and me", explained the Mayor of Sofia his stand. Practically at the same time, but at another place, President Stojanov also repeated Sofijanski's thesis on the replacement of the current party leadership. "If we talk about resignations from a principled point of view, in my opinion the SDS already has a moral model for such situations which was formulated back in 1994", commented the President.

These statements were actually a direct message to Ivan Kostov to resign from the leading position in the party. No matter how much Bulgaria's successes in recent years were linked with his name, the negative response of voters was triggered by his income policy and the fact that he failed to place corruption and "clientelism" within the SDS under control. On the night of elections he indicated that he "would do what was necessary, but at the right place and at the right time". However, since he took long time with submitting his resignation, other blue symbols, such as Sofijanski and Stojanov had to remind him of his promise. Gradually, the SDS district centres mounted a campaign for his removal from the party leadership. Even the SDS Committee for Sofia, at whose head is one of Kostov's fiercest opponents - Evgeni Bakardjijev, expressed its support for the idea on President's resignation.

And, since Kostov's resignation became only a matter of time, the basic question arose - who would come to his place. The most frequently mentioned name was that of Foreign Minister Nadezda Mihajlova as the most charismatic and appropriate figure within the SDS. The majority of blue leaders thought that the party needed a new face and that she was the symbol of success the part needed.

The Conference of National Boards decided differently - Ekaterina Mihajlova came to the helm of the party. She is reputed to be, together with the former President of Parliament, Jordan Sokolov, a person from Ivan Kostov's closest circle. Mihajlova does not enjoy very wide public support, since she was always called the SDS's "form-master". For her part, Nadezda Mihajlova will become chief of SDS delegate group unless the Alliance concludes a coalition agreement with the National Movemement of Symeon II, the election winner, and she gets re-elected Foreign Minister.

Finally, Ivan Kostov played his cards by finding middle ground. He responded to a demand of the internal opposition for a change in the SDS top ranks by tendering his resignation. At the same time he kept in his hands all levers of power which he had until now.

Actually, such developments are not surprising. Ivan Kostov was the one who transformed the SDS coalition torn by contradictions into the SDS Party. Therefore, the hierarchy and discipline led to the creation of a blue party apparatus which was, until now, under the leader's direct control. Kostov eliminated from leadership all those who had a different opinion and surrounded himself with loyal people. That's why it was difficult for some popular personalities from his company to join in the fight for the leading position. Simply, the blue apparatus does not accept any interference from the side, even when it comes from a "prominent" SDS representative. Actually, this turned out to be the SDS's major management problem, especially in the last two years.

The lack of new politicians with fresh ideas led to a massive multiplication of Kostov's ideas. And, as it turned out, they were not the right message for the electorate. For an ordinary voter Stefan Sofijanski and Petar Stojanov were the true popular politicians from the SDS ranks. And that is a fact which will continue to burden the party even with the new leadership.

However, will Stojanov's and Sofijanski's flirting with the Royal Movement change the situation on the political scene remains to be seen after negotiations on the new Government are concluded.

Georgi Filipov