A new anti-corruption party was launched in Bulgaria over the weekend ahead of early elections called following the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
Named Yes Bulgaria, the party has vowed to clamp down on graft, boost economic growth and raise living standards. Led by former justice minister Hristo Ivanov, Yes Bulgaria will participate in polls scheduled to take place in March or April.
Some 1,250 delegates registered as founding members of the party on Saturday and elected Ivanov as leader, who warned in a speech that the “Bulgarian oligarchy is preparing to hold another election in which to reload the corruption model”.
“We have to break the system,” he added.
“We are not declaring a rhetorical war on some abstract corruption and lawlessness, we are not talking about poverty in general. We are facing a small group of untouchables and their patrons,” SeeNews quoted Ivanov as saying to founding delegates of the party.
Ivanov resigned from the centre-right coalition government led by Borissov at the end of 2015 after MPs voted against limits on the chief prosecutor’s power in the Supreme Judicial Council. At the time, the chief prosecutor had been accused of failing to tackle alleged widespread corruption among senior officials.
After quitting government, Ivanov said: “Whoever tells you that any national goal can be achieved without dealing with corruption’s capture of the state is lying to you.”
Borissov stepped down last November after his nominee for president was defeated by a Russia-friendly general backed by the opposition. Tsetska Tsacheva’s failure to win the presidential ballot was widely seen as a voter backlash against Borissov’s lack of progress in the country’s fight against corruption.
Yes Bulgaria is looking to take advantage of voter anger over perceived institutional corruption at the heart of the Balkan state’s political establishment, and ride the wave of populism that has swept Europe since the UK’s referendum on EU membership in June.
Manuela Maleeva, one of Yes Bulgaria’s founders, said: “The party is aware that there is no margin for error because the expectations are huge.”
According to Transparency International, Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the European Union. In a progress report on the country’s fight against graft and organised crime published last January, the European Commission noted that tackling high-level corruption remains one of the country’s most pressing priorities.
Speaking at the time, EU Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “Last year Bulgaria took some important steps to put reform back onto the agenda. Now it is time to move to the next stage by turning the strategies on judicial reform and the fight against corruption into action on the ground and delivering concrete results.”