AIM: start

SUN, 29 JUL 2001 09:08:57 GMT

His Royal Highness Turned His Excellency

King Simeon II Taking Over the Prime Minister's Chair

AIM Sofia, July 15, 2001

On July 11, the world news agencies carried a "flash" news that Simeon II of the Saxe-Coburg house will become the Prime Minister of Bulgaria. Had someone else's name appeared as that of the new Prime Minister, like the name of the Mayor of Sofia, Stefan Sofijanski, hardly anyone would be so interested in the future running of Sofia. This time, however, it's an unprecedented case in Europe - a monarch will stand at the helm of executive authorities and become "His Excellency" instead of "His Royal Highness".

It is very unlikely that once-exiled nine-year-old boy king ever believed that he would not only return, but also take the lead of the executive authorities in Sofia. In recent times his ambitions were primarily directed towards presidential function. However, since the Constitutional Court prevented him from getting it because he had not been living in the country in the last five years, the exiled king tried to take the parliament by storm with the assistance of the new National Movement of Simeon the Second (NDSV) created this spring and managed to inflict a crushing defeat on the ruling christian-democratic Alliance of Democratic Forces (SDS), leaving many small parties outside Parliament in the process.

Those well-versed in the royal actions of King Simeon II claim that he tried to persuade the Sofia Mayor, Stefan Sofijanski, to take the Prime Minister's position. The Mayor, who enjoys the trust of the society, as well as the king himself, was a man of consensus and was already once President of the official Government. However, these are unconfirmed versions, fuelled by secret meetings between Simeon II and Sofijanski, which were held several days before the King's nomination for Prime Minister.

Whether because Sofijanski refused him or for some other reason, but Simeon II agreed to be the Prime Minister. It seems that he had no other choice. For, in any other case the voters would ultimately feel cheated. The votes Bulgarians had given to NDSV at the June 17 elections, were cast not so much for the movement but for him. Had it not been for his charismatic personality hardly anyone would have voted for totally unknown names on the Movement's lists. Naturally, the disappointment with the SDS's rule, as well as with the previous rule of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) had greatly contributed to the fact that today NDSV can count on 120 out of total 240 votes in Parliament.

Many did not believe that the King would take the Prime Minister's chair. And they have every right to be suspicious. Simeon did not want to run for deputy and thus increased suspicions. Analysts thought that this was dictated by his unwillingness to swear on the Republican Constitution and thus indirectly renounce the throne. Now he has carried out the will of the people, as he used to frequently say, and swore to the Republic as Prime Minister. Indeed, he did not leave any doubts as to his readiness to once again carry out the will of the people if they ask for monarchy.

It thus happened that Simeon from the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, born on June 16, 1939, will become 48th Prime Minister of Bulgaria since 1879. And from now on he will have to forget the usual answer he gave to all questions put to him: "We shall see when the time comes for that". The time has come and as of July 24, the counting of 800 days will start, which Simeon asked the voters to give him so that he could change the lives of Bulgarians and improve their well-being. On that day the new Government will be proclaimed in Parliament and he will assume his office.

Until then, the King-Prime Minister will have to carefully choose people for his Cabinet. This will be the most serious test for him because, with some exceptions, he doesn't have very experienced politicians at his disposal for his Government. And since it can be said that NDSV also doesn't have very good cadres, Simeon II wants to form a coalition with the SDS. Then his personnel problems would be solved. But, the SDS leader, Ivan Kostov, is reluctant because of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) - a party of Bulgarian Turks - which will certainly take part in the new Government.

Western diplomatic circles in Sofia were relieved by the fact that Simeon has shown readiness to form an alliance with the SDS because that would guarantee the continuity in the implementation of the policy of reforms. But, by all appearances, Ivan Kostov's Conservatives will refuse the offer. They are indirectly asking for the DPS not to be included in the setting up of the Cabinet stating that they could never be partners with "former members of the State Security(DB)". And, it is open secret that most of DPS deputies were once agents of communist secret services.

However, Simeon II always said that he is for a broad-based Government coalition and will probably try to form a Cabinet with non-party experts. Members of a number of political forces might be included in it, but as experts. In other words, Simeon has become deeply involved in political games in Bulgaria and both positive and negative surprises are awaiting him. He will have to face the ruthless reality of every-day politics seasoned with numerous Balkan elements. In addition, he will have to meet a great challenge - making the state machinery work at full blast.

Simeon II is expected to be the Prime Minister of the people and not of the elite, i.e. to be a total opposite of his predecessor Ivan Kostov. He promised to improve the well-being of Bulgarians in the next 800 days and will undoubtedly do everything necessary so that the Bulgarians can feel the difference and continue to "trust" him (as he has put it). For, no one knows whether he will have to ask them tomorrow if they want a Republic or monarchy.

It is not by accident that Simeon II chose the 10th anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria - July 11 to proclaim his decision to become Prime Minister. Perhaps in this way he wanted to silence those who doubted that his ultimate aim was to restore monarchy. At the same time, this is a sign that at this stage he will observe the rules of parliamentary republic. However, by joining the political game called parliamentary republic, for a successful running of the state he doesn't exclude the possibility that the political life in Bulgaria might take another course - such as that of parliamentary monarchy.

Plamen Kulinski