WORRIES AND AMBITIONS AT 2 DONDUKOV STREET
Two years after Bulgaria's President Georgi Parvanov began his mandate, neither his fans nor his critics have changed their opinion of him. Since the Head of State took office on January 22, 2002, he has not betrayed his personal and political views. In the past few days, too, the President showed that he had no intention to give up his ambitions to conduct his own policy. Like his two most recent predecessors, he is trying to expand his limited rights.Many people's suspicions that Mr. Parvanov has been thinking of his second mandate since he first stepped on 2 Dondukov Street are rather reasonable. The President does not rely on improvisations and is very careful about what he does and what he says. He may be exaggerating with his public manifestations, but still they look carefully prepared and sound convincing. At least they have until recently. Because it is getting more obvious now that the Head of State is trying to make the presidency look like an institution that takes an active part in and even defines the policy of the State. And that is not blameworthy, only not so true - these are not rights that the Constitution has given to the president. Which makes everything the President says and does extremely populistic.Still, the President reports every step he makes. He did it when he completed the first year in office. He repeated it on January 22, 2004, too. In order to show his policy is independent, he read his report in front of the Parliament.When Mr. Parvanov completed one year as President of Bulgaria, he reported making several achievements - staying above all parties, keeping 2 Dondukov Street a factor of stability, attaining succession of the priorities. Still, during his first year as president he found out that the representative rights of the institution were too limited to bring concrete results in the direction he desired. Despite all his efforts, the President remained as isolated from the real political actions as he has ever been. Which is what the constitution says and of what many of Parvanov's predecessors complained. However, Georgi Parvanov demonstrates that he has no intentions to accept the restrictions his role imposes on him. Of course, his office is not going to propose direct amendments to the Constitution aimed at expanding the president's functions. But the Head of State does not miss a chance to say a word about repairing the country's main law. At the end of the 2003 municipal elections, for example, he said: A debate of this kind (about the amendments to the Constitution because of Bulgaria's integration to the EU and NATO) cannot ignore the changes that might result from the estimates of the efficiency of the institutions and our political system. Unlike Zhelyu Zhelev, who talked plainly about a president's republic at the end of his mandate, Georgi Parvanov does not question the supremacy of the parliament. Not quite... Doubts that the Head of State might have bigger ambitions than the Constitution allowed him grew stronger lately as he celebrated two years at 2 Dondukov Street. The President profited by the occasion to show his cards. For example, he insisted on being allowed to organise referendums and even asked for one to decide about the country's integration to the European Union. Regardless of the argument whether this referendum is necessary or not, the question about the president's role was put on the agenda again. And in fact, that was the purpose of the President's initiative.All presidents in Bulgarian history have one day started a conflict with the executive power. Exactly because the role they were given did not suit the ambitions they had. This is what happened to Georgi Parvanov, too, and the sparks between him and the majority of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's party threatened to break the consent about the country's top priorities. Until recently, Georgi Parvanov was complaining that he was being ignored and deliberately restricted by the rest of the institutions and that his dialogue with the executive power did not lead to efficient collaboration.In early November, the President appealed for changes in the Government and in the ruling structure as a whole, saying that measures were needed in order to strengthen the public confidence in the rulers. Adding more experts to the Cabinet might help for achieving that purpose. It wasn't by chance that an idea for making a program government was spread at that specific moment. But as the Prime-Minister Saxe-Coburg-Gotha is not used to accepting advice, the President, unlike other politicans, put an end to the question so that nobody could accuse him of meddling with personnel affairs. Since then, with a few exceptions, differences between the President and the Government seem to have ended, at least in public. Obviously, Mr. Parvanov has decided to avoid his predecessors' mistakes and try not to go too far in his direct interference in the power.However, in the field of foreign affairs, the Head of State is standing his ground. At the beginning of his mandate, optimists expected that Parvanov would gradually distance from his former party - the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), as well as from the pro-Russian policy, and would agree with the pro-Western ideas in order to gain the sympathy of Bulgaria's foreign partners. The role of the president, according to the Constitution, concentrates on his foreign political appearances and his representative activities. But his image of a person who unites the nation does not suppose that 2 Dondukov Street make attempts to reexamine the national priorities on which the institutions should have already reached some agreement.Expectations for differentiation from BSP came true to a certain extent, at least regarding the purely fomal aspect of things. President Parvanov did not repeat the mistake of his predecessor Peter Stoyanov to openly intervene in the affairs of the party he was nominated by, although in most instances the stance of the President and of the socialist party coincide. Concerning the second, however, the President's connections and sympathies towards the pro-Russian political lobbies and circles of generals seem stronger than ever and that is inevitably reflected in his actions. In his report to the Parliament Mr. Parvanov again insisted for a change of Bulgaria's standpoint regarding the crisis in Iraq. The Head of State demanded that our country should insist on UN's leading role in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.In fact, the most serious worries for Georgi Parvanov during his tenure as President came from Iraq. The publication in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada, alleging that BSP had received from Saddam Hussein 12,000,000 barrels of crude under the Oil-for-Food programme, cast a dark shaddow on 2 Dondukov Street, whose present host was BSP's leader in 1998, the year of the alleged deal. The Presdient reacted quickly and coolly, ordering an investigation of the case on the part of the National Investigation Service and the National Security Service. And he remained silent about what he thought on the matter. Iraq was also the occation for strong presidential appearance, connected with the army. The Head of State publicly endured a trial of the nation - the tragedy of the killed Bulgarian soldiers in Karbala. In fact, Mr. Parvanov seriously struggles to stake out his claim as a major factor in the regulation of activities in the country's armed forces. But his ambitions go further. The President is trying to play the leading part in the formation of Bulgaria's policies in that sphere. This becomes especially evident when the reforms in the Bulgarian army are concerned, as Mr. Parvanov often gives contradictory signals regarding the requirements to the country, set by NATO. The reason for the President's activity in that respect lies in his involvement with the old generals, whose interests will be injured by Bulgaria's accession to the Alliance. After the country's admission to NATO, however, this battle will come to an end and the Head of State will at last have to take a more categorical stance.