By Svetla Dimitrova
The executive committee of Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party accepted the resignations of two of the country’s ministers — Traicho Traikov of economy, energy and tourism, and Stefan Konstantinov of health — at an urgently called late-night meeting Thursday (March 15th).
The announcement was made shortly after the return of a government delegation, headed by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, from a three-day official visit to Qatar that was marred by a gaffe at a business forum.
Traikov will be replaced by Delyan Dobrev, 34, who has been serving as his deputy since May last year, the prime minister and GERB leader said at an interview Friday with Bulgarian National Television.
Borisov blamed Traikov for the slow progress in implementing a number of energy and investment projects, including the construction of a natural gas interconnector with Turkey.
“If we must compare energy during the term of the previous cabinet and ours, we will not notice any differences,” the prime minister said. Nor had Bulgaria reduced its energy dependence on Russia since GERB came to power in July 2009, he also noted.
What had tipped the scales in favour of Traikov’s sacking, Borisov said, was a gaffe with the badly organised business forum in Doha this week, when not a single Qatari businessman showed up at the event, scheduled to open Wednesday morning. He went on to praise Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov for eventually resolving the problem and the rescheduling of the forum for that evening.
Many political analysts and observers, however, believe that the main reason for Traikov’s dismissal is his opposition to the stalled Belene nuclear power plant (NPP) project with Russia.
“I think that Minister Traikov’s resignation is linked to the (impending) decision of the Belene NPP,” Antoniy Galabov, professor of political sociology and culture in the department of political sciences at New Bulgarian University in Sofia, told SETimes on Friday. “Although the two resignations were submitted on the same day, they have a different background and importance. They will also have a different political impact.”
Martin Dimitrov, the leader of the right-wing Union of Democratic Forces, also suggested in remarks Friday that supporters of the Belene project are most likely behind the economy and energy minister’s removal from office.
A report by the Sofia News Agency, however, quoted Traikov as telling reporters following Borisov’s interview, that Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsevetanov was the one who had actually demanded the resignation.
“No motives were specified, besides the half-hearted mention of the awkward situation in Qatar, which is ridiculous,” the agency cited him as saying.
Borisov denied speculation linking Traikov’s dismissal with his opposition to the Belene project, and said that the purpose of the energy and finance ministers’ trip to Moscow last month was to tell the Russians that Sofia would not build the plant.
A decision on the project should be made “only after a broad public debate,” the prime minister told the public broadcaster, suggesting that he would explore options for calling a referendum on the issue.
Coming in the wake of a recent scandal over the significantly higher prices that the National Health Insurance Fund paid for medicines last year as compared to 2010, Konstantinov’s decision to quit the cabinet came as no surprise.
Borisov warned him earlier this month that he would be sacked if he fails to resolve the problem quickly.
Konstantinov, who served as the third health minister in the GERB government since July 2009, will be succeeded by lawyer Desislava Atanasova, currently a lawmaker from Borisov’s party and chair of parliament’s Health Committee.