Mediapool Weekly: May 18 – May 24, 2018

Last polls before EU elections indicate advantage for GERB, Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) finally showcases Peevski, Vazrazhdane campaign clip depicts mass shooting of journalists

Commentary:

GERB might be on the road to recovery thanks to the impotent campaign of the opposition

Boyko Borissov’s tactic to fully take over the visible campaign for the European Elections this Sunday might prove effective at the end. The last polls showed GERB is overrunning the largest opposition, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which entered the campaign slightly in the lead. The reason was the series of incredible corruption scandals, including ApartmentGate, which revealed high level GERB operatives purchased luxurious apartments for a third of the price from a notorious real estate development company, which preceded the introduction of some quite favorable amendments to development laws, which seemed to fit this companies’ particular needs for an ambitious project in Sofia. Then it was discovered that a number of politicians had managed to redirect EU funding and use it to build or renovate their personal villas, while packaging the projects as bed and breakfast facilities. Along with those, a bunch of high-ranking officials, including the head of the Anticorruption Commission, were discovered to have falsified their tax returns, extended their apartments illegally etc.

With those preconditions, it seemed BSP came into the election with a significant advantage, and not just in terms of the polling but also as a potential to develop a strong and winning campaign.

But the opposition leader, Korneliya Ninova, has been doing much to the benefit of GERB, along with Borissov himself. Even if – against the predictions of the most recent polling from five separate polls – BSP manages to overcome GERB, this will not be so much a fact that BSP wins, but that GERB had not managed to win. Any success of BSP’s in this election cannot be attributed to their campaign (to win), but would rather be a biproduct of someone else’s failure.

From the very beginning BSP decided to focus on GERB’s corruption. Which is tempted, given the circumstances, and even relevant and understandable. But since the campaign begun, the largest parliamentary opposition has not managed to produce a single clear message regarding Bulgaria’s role in the EU, how it sees its future, what are the issues their EMPs will work on if elected, etc. BSP is running solely on domestic issues, and against GERB in particular. The only exception is a ridiculous pledge that BSP will work for a common minimum wage for all EU country. Which is really a fancier way of saying it currently does not plan to work for anything at all.

However true it may be – and it is – that GERB has hijacked the country, and corrupted it to its core, even a domestic campaign is doomed if it is solely focused on the opponent’s lacks. Even a negative campaign must take time to tell the voters what they actually plan on doing if elected. But Ninova and her candidates failed to deliver such a message. And this is what is Borissov’s prime helper in his own campaign, which is at least for the moment, showing positive results. As one observer put it recently, GERB is terrified of losing and BSP is terrified of winning.

Unfortunately, as bad as those in power are, and as many and grave mistakes they make, the fact that the space for the opposition is occupied by an air pressure void will always facilitate the former’s redemption. And if GERB wins, Borissov should not take all the credit and thank the incredible impotence of the opposition’s campaigning efforts.

In other news:

Pro-Russian party campaign clip depicts mass shooting of journalists

Democratic Bulgaria files a complaint against the clip

A disturbing campaign video emerged online recently of the pro-Russian, far-right populist movement Vazrazhdane (Renaissance). The video is ten seconds long and shows a man firing continuously machine guns against people sitting in the stands opposite him. The non-parliamentary liberal opposition Democratic Bulgaria has filed an official complaint against the clip to the Central Election Commission.

The Bulgarian office of Free Europe reported it had asked the leader of the party, Kostadin Kostadinov, what is the message Vazrazhdane is sending with this video, and the answer they’d got was that this is a message to media outlets such as Free Europe.

“With this clip we want to say that there are media organizations in Bulgaria such as Free Europe, which work to destroy the Bulgarian state. This video is meant for media outlets just as yours. This is not an election campaign video, this is a video aimed against Free Europe”, Kostadinov reportedly told Free Europe.

The video is equipped with all requisites of a campaign video: it contains a ballot number for which the video calls on voters to cast their votes, and ends with the compulsory message that vote buying is a crime. At the same time, however, the clip was circulated only on social media. For this reason, the Central Election Commission told Free Europe it is out of its jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, the Bulgarian desk of the Association of European Journalists called on Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov to begin an immediate inquiry into the case and see whether Vazrazhdane has upheld the law that “political parties must use democratic means for achieving their political goals”.

“The Bulgarian desk of AEJ is categorical that the Bulgarian institutions must firmly oppose ideology, which promotes terrorism.” The AEJ goes on to cite terrorist acts against journalists from the recent past in France, the U.S., the Middle East, Asia and New Zealand, and concludes that any threat against journalists must be treated with the upmost seriousness.

Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) finally showcases Peevski

The European Parliament candidate Delyan Peevski, who nobody had seen in public for the last year, except for a single day in the Bulgarian Parliament, finally made a public appearance. The investigative site Bivol.bg recently published passenger manifests, which showed that Peevski is effectively resisting in the UAE almost full time. This led to the citizen group BOEC to file a claim in the administrative court that Peevski shouldn’t have the right to be a candidate in the European elections, as he does not fulfill the requirement to have resided in a EU-member state for the last six months. However, the Bulgarian law defines residency by the person having a permanent address in Bulgaria, which Peevski does have. The law does not concern itself with the person in question actually having physically been living in said address, and so the case was dismissed.

Although the court ruled very quickly and decidedly on this case – after all the law on this is rather unambiguous – the subject of Peevski invisibility gained popularity. Not only does he not attend work at all – as Bulgarian MP he has been to Parliament a total of one single time over the past two years – he did not appear at any of DPS’s key campaign events, including the official announcement of the candidates in the ballot, in which Peevski is second to the party leader, Mustafa Karadaya. And while his media empire is in full campaign mode, printing an extraordinary amount of hate materials against Peevski opposers, especially members of the non-parliamentary opposition Democratic Bulgaria. Two days before the election one of his newspapers included a “free book” full of extensive materials against members of DB, publishers, whose media are critical of the government and Peevski and more. The so-called book in about 200 pages, A4 format, complete with colored pictures.

Still, the interest in Peevski might have struck a cored, as he finally made his first public appearance at the very end of the campaign. He visited a small town near Pazarzhik, which was covered with a paid publication in the local paper. DPS’s official introduction of Peevski describes his as “one of the most influential persons in the country, an established politician, a man, truly loved and respected by his electors”.

The publication in the local paper is written in a style, heavily reminiscent of the way articles about communist leaders visiting ‘ordinary folk’ during the totalitarian regime were written. It describes the pure joy the people felt, and the honor to see and touch a person of such power, while at the same time Peevski is described as ‘one of the people’ and having ‘friendly conversations’ with the locals.

As second in the ballot, Peevski I sure to win a seat at the European Parliament. It is unclear whether Peevski will actually become a EMP. He might withdraw as he did in the last European elections, when he also won a seatbut yielded it in favor of the next candidate in line.

Insurance company paid 10 leva compensation for death of bus crash victims

The insurance company Bul Inc paid 10 leva to the relatives of the victims of the deadly bus crash near Svoge, which occurred in August of last year. The relatives signaled the National ombudsman, Maya Manolova and the head of the financial supervisory commission, Boyko Atanasov, who in turn wrote an open letter to PM Boyko Borissov.

According to the law, the compulsory insurance, which every car, bus, bike etc must have, pays a 50’000 leva compensation when a passenger dies in a crash. The insurance company had tried to bypass this law, arguing that the passengers were on public transport, and thus the company does not owe the compensation as provided by law.

The financial supervisory commission, however, issued a definite dismissal of this interpretation, pronouncing it false. The commission delivered an official instruction for Bul Inc to pay the compensation in full. Bul Inc decided to appeal the decision in court. This is why it wired 10 leva to each of the victims’ families: this was a way to both fulfill the requirement to pay the policies (the 10 leva being a sort of installment) and be able to and see whether the court would rule in their favor.

Meanwhile, though, Bul Inc has since publicly agreed to pay the full amount of the 50’000 leva compensation and withdraw the appeal from court. The company cited the mounting public pressure, which came about after the story was taken up by the media.

The bus crash from last August took the lives of 20 people. Since then the main reason for the crash, according to the prosecutors’ case, is the fact the driver, Grigor Grigorov went into the very sharp corner at 53 km/h at a limit of 40 km/h. However, experts have also concluded that the quality of the road itself played a crucial role as well. Further investigations established that the asphalt compound contained materials, which violate the public contract for the road construction, which suggest the company in charge swapped materials for cheaper ones during implementation, and without approval from the National Road Infrastructure Agency. In addition, the corner, where the bus fell off the road into the pit below, lacked proper crash-barriers.

F-16 price too high: Defense Minister Karakachanov

The price the U.S. is asking Bulgaria for the F-16 fighters is higher than expected, and unjustified at that, according to Bulgarian Defense Minister Krassimir Karakachanov.

Last week he hinted the negotiations with the U.S. for the fighter jets might fail. This week he said Bulgaria will attempt to negotiate lower process for some of the components of the deal. He excludes the option to lower the capacities of the machines, though. The government will also count on paying for the jets in multiple installments. This is also known to be a point of heavy negotiating and is hardly a certain outcome. If Bulgaria does not manage to negotiate installment payment, and signs the deal, it will likely have to resort to a state loan.

“When someone tells you something costs 5 leva, and you know it’s worth 3, it’s normal for you to say “Guys, this is unreasonable, where is this price coming from?”. Everybody wants to profit on the market”, he said.

According to Mediapool sources the discrepancy between the two sides amounts to about half a billion leva, which is quite a lot. The negotiations will continue but it is highly unlikely at this point that the government reaches its initial goal of signing a final deal in July.

Bulgaria’s best female badminton players will no longer play for Bulgaria, citing corruption

Bulgaria’s best two female badminton players, sisters Gabriela and Stefani Stoev, announced earlier this week that they will no longer play under Bulgarian flag. They have accused the head of the Bulgarian Badminton Federation for illegally redirecting funds, intended for the two, elsewhere.

The Stoev sisters became European champions last year in female doubles, as well as in 2015.

The two wrote a lengthy Facebook post, saying they no longer wish to battle with the federation and that they have faced ‘insurmountable difficulties’ in the face of its head, Volodya Zlatev.

The Stoev sisters explain how Zlatev had told them the federation has no budget for their training. After that Stoevi went to the minister of sport, Krasen Kralev, who assured them that is not true.

This is how they found out that the budget, the ministry had allocated for their training had plainly disappeared.

The funding, they say, is only one aspect of the general mismanagement and bad manner with which the federation has treated the two. Stoevi also write that they have hired a lawyer to take the case to the Prosecutor’s Office.

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Изненадани ли сте, че Антикорупционната комисия не откри нередности около "Апартаментгейт"?