THU, 14 FEB 2002 16:16:23 GMT
Emperor-Turned-Prime-Minister Criticizes His Associates
The founding congress of the Simeon II National Movement was not held.
Simeon of Sax-Cobourg is trying his best to save his plummeting
AIM Sofia, February 2, 2002
On Jan. 26, in Hall 2 of the National Culture Castle in Sofia, 800
people gathered to help give birth to a new party -- the Simeon II
National Movement. About 850 glasses were waiting to be filled with
champagne, and everybody was awaiting the appearance of the man the
movement was named for, the man who last summer won elections for the
Bulgarian Parliament and needed a classical political organization to
continue playing the game. However, Simeon II was late and that
irritated his guests. After an hour's delay the former emperor turned
prime minister finally appeared only to repeat his favorite phrase --
"the time to transform the Movement into a political party has not yet
come." This amazed the guests, but the real shocker was yet to come:
immediately after that he began criticizing his ministers and MPs. "I
cannot accept petty bickering, lack of teamwork, ministers who care more
about administrative problems than the conditions in which people
actually live. MPs have forgotten that they are representatives of the
people, yet don't bother to visit those who have elected them, and are
ready to criticize others but not to report on their own work and
progress," said the prime minister.
Strangely enough these words didn't bother any of those present, as if
they weren't the ones being criticized. The stronger the prime
minister's words, the stronger their applause. After the convention
failed, most cabinet ministers said that the criticism did not pertain
to them. The effects of the emperor's speech were stunning. It turned
out that there wasn't the slightest truth to rumors that Simeon II was
oblivious to what was going on around him.
This is what Simeon badly needed, because his popular ratings had begun
to slide. His maneuver turned things around. In only 13 minutes he
revised his image, becoming a good prime minister with a bad cabinet and
MPs. His words made it clear that he was not "a tired man," as he likes
to put it himself, and that he is aware that the credibility of his
Movement, cabinet and his person is on a downward slope. He obviously
realized what irritated people the most and decided to use their
language to regain the trust they vested in him last summer. On June 17,
2001, Bulgarians voted for his Movement, created only two months before
the vote, seeing in him their only hope for a better life, something the
cabinet of his predecessor, Ivan Kostov, could not give them.
Back then, Simeon of Sax-Cobourg promised that in 800 days he would make
their dreams come true. But after 180 days there were no signs that the
things had changed for the better. The only comfort was that at least
they hadn't deteriorated either. Still, the people are losing patience.
They have begun losing hope in the emperor as well, despite the West's
praises of his cabinet and the fact that several international financial
institutions have said Bulgaria's credit rating is up. The average
salary is now slightly over US$100, and the average pension suffices to
pay electricity and heating bills. The discrepancy between promises and
reality is why many Bulgarians are also unsatisfied with the current
The prime minister had to do something to change this. And he chose the
right time and place, because the gathering had been at the focus of
public attention for days and was broadcast live by numerous TV and
radio stations. Thus ordinary citizens could hear straight from the
prime minister exactly what they wanted to hear, and that made them feel
better regardless of the fact that the prime minister could have simply
dismissed the ministers instead of just criticizing them.
But this gave the emperor additional time. The effects of his speech at
the failed congress will not last long, and living standards are
unlikely to improve soon, the unemployment problem will not be resolved,
and the taxes will not go down. Because of this, there will be changes
in Simeon's cabinet.
Encouraged by the prime minister's criticism, Movement MPs are gearing
up to demand that the ministers of finance, transportation, health care,
social welfare and culture be dismissed. The prime minister, however,
has said that he was not calling for resignations, but it is believed
this statement was made only because he wasn't ready for such drastic
steps at that time.
Cabinet reshuffles are nothing new in Bulgaria, this is what Ivan Kostov
did in the fall of 1999. But for him it meant only another six months in
office and nothing more.
There is also a possibility that Simeon of Sax-Cobourg will find a
better way of securing his political survival. In addition to
reshuffling the cabinet, he could also review the manner in which his
Movement's caucus is functioning in Parliament, given that the
legislative process in general is very chaotic.
Many observers do not believe that the cabinet and Parliament will
remain in office until the end of their term. People are beginning to
speak about early elections. The question is not whether early elections
will be held, but when they will be scheduled. Until Jan. 26, most
observers believed they will be held this year. But the emperor has
intimated that he has other aces up his sleeve. Still, this cannot help
him indefinitely. He has until the summer of 2003.