Bulgaria President Calls Elections on May 12

General election all but inevitable, if as seems likely the ethnic Turkish party refuses to form a government.Bulgarians will go to the polls on May 12, President Rosen Plevneliev announced on Thursday in a special address to parliament.

The date is predicated on the likely refusal of the ethnic Turkish-dominated Movement for Rights and Freedoms, MRF, the third largest party in parliament, to try to form a government.

The two largest parties have already refused a mandate while the MRF has already signalled it would decline the President’s formal offer, anticipated on Friday.

In that case, the President will form a caretaker government tasked with organizing elections within two months. Plevneliev previously said he would announce such a government by the end of next week.

The choice of May 12 as polling day was informed by a wish to give the Central Election Commission as much time as possible to prepare for the election.

Bulgaria traditionally holds elections on Sundays, and the two Sundays prior to May 12 coincide with important Church holidays, Palm Sunday and Easter.

Several other developments are also expected on Friday. The first is a meeting of a “public council”, which is intended to provide input from the protesters to the President and the anticipated caretaker government.

On Thursday, Plevneliev announced the names of 35 people who will take part in the meeting.

They include protest organizers, leaders of the trade unions, professional organizations, and nature conservation groups, minority representatives, prominent analysts and others.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the outgoing government, perhaps the last, will also take place on Friday, after being postponed twice this week due to the illness of outgoing Prime Minister Boiko Borisov. He was admitted to hospital on Wednesday with high blood pressure.

The timing of the meeting will most likely mean that ministers will not be able to attend Question Time in parliament, which is usually held on Fridays.

Critics have charged that the government is trying to avoid scrutiny, especially as last Friday there was an insufficient quorum in parliament.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party leader, Sergei Stanishev, has claimed that ministers are busy destroying documents and covering up underhand dealings.

Questions remain about state finances, especially after an emergency bond release held last week, due to the lack of money to pay farming subsidies.

Parliament recently voted rapidly on a number of bills, deciding to scrap the controversial nuclear plant project at Belene, to ban building in nature reserves near the Black Sea coast, and to lower the price of electricity in March.

It is still unclear how big the reduction in the price of electricity will be. Under pressure from demonstrations last week, Borisov mentioned a figure of 8 per cent, but experts have questioned whether this is possible.

Many analysts have pointed to the lack of transparency in the power market in the country, and have forecast that solving problems will be tough.

According to a report by Reuters on Wednesday, “Bulgaria still has the lowest retail power prices in Europe,” despite the inefficiencies of the regulated power market which, if fixed, could allow for further price reductions.

“Three of the country’s four large coal-fired power plants are presently earning more than their counterparts in power sales on liberalised wholesale power markets in Scandinavia and central Europe,” the report noted.

Green energy charges, which come to about 7 per cent of residential bills, reflected higher subsidies to solar power and other renewable energy sources than in Germany, it added.

Critics and pundits claim that the unusually high subsidies and other inefficiencies in the power sector are partly due to corrupt deals executed by several governments over the past decade.

Disentangling the schemes will require extensive investigations and legal proceedings, they say. As with other aspects of the Bulgarian crisis, there is much uncertainty and little transparency involved.

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