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(NW) Front-Runners in 2021 Bulgarian Parliamentary Elections: Rise Up! Thugs Out!

March 29 (BTA) – This is the fifth piece in a series of backgrounders that BTA’s Daily News is running ahead of the April 4 general elections in Bulgaria. The series covers eight parties and coalitions which polls show to be certain or likely, to various degrees, to win seats in the next Parliament: VMRO – Bulgarian National Movement; Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP); Movement for Rights and Freedoms; Democratic Bulgaria; Rise Up! Thugs Out!; Patriotic Coalition – Volya and NFSB; GERB-UDF; Ima Takuv Narod [There Is Such a People]. They are arranged according to the number by which they will appear on the ballots. Rise Up! Thugs Out! History Registered for the elections on February 11, 2021 as a coalition of three parties: Movement 21 (founded in 2011, leader: Tatyana Doncheva); Bulgaria for the Citizens Movement (founded in 2012, leader: Dimiter Delchev); and United People’s Party (founded in 2008, leader: Valentina Vassileva – Filadelfefs). The coalition is represented by Maya Manolova – Naydenova in her capacity as chair of the Izpravi se.BG Citizens’ Platform and by lawyer Nikolay Hadjigenov who, together with PR expert Arman Babikyan and sculptor Velislav Minekov, spearheaded the street protests in summer 2020 as an informal “Toxic Trio”. Ideology Tagging the coalition ideologically would be risky, all the more so that its signature faces hail from non-party entities. Even the parties in the coalition cannot be said to have a distinct ideological profile or seriously try to be ideologically identifiable. A more informed voter might find the coalition’s ideological makeup somewhat confusing, given the background of its constituent parties. The Bulgaria for the Citizens Movement is a Centre-Right party affiliated with the European People’s Party (together with GERB, Democrats for Strong Bulgaria and the Union of Democratic Forces), the United Peoples Party is Right-wing, and Movement 21 was an organization of young intellectuals in the Bulgarian Socialist Party before it became a party in its own right. Rise Up! Thugs Out! is largely associated with the Izpravi se.BG [Rise Up, Bulgaria] Citizens’ Platform, set up by former national ombudsman Maya Manolova in December 2019. Izpravi se.BG was a fixture in the 2020 protests, where it gained public visibility. To this day, the protests remain very much part of the coalition’s campaign rhetoric and tactics. The “Thugs Out” part of its name apparently quotes an appeal by President Rumen Radev in support of the protesters, although the coalition claims that it had used that slogan right from the outset, referring to the allegedly shady past and present of some prominent establishment figures. Not accidentally, Izpravi se.BG tops the list of the constituent entities in the coalition’s Political Declaration. There, Rise Up! Thugs Out! is defined as “a platform for political representation of ordinary people.” Platform, Policies, Positions The political goals of Rise Up! Thugs Out! are formulated in most general of terms in its platform (guaranteeing financial stability; creating conditions for sustainable economic growth; developing a modern and stable capital market; promoting small and medium-sized enterprises; providing decent incomes and pensions; easing the tax burden on individuals and businesses; ending the abusive practices of private and state monopolies, etc.). The proposed sector policies are more detailed and to-the-point, including de-etatization of the Stock Exchange and introduction of an income tax threshold equal to the minimum wage. The platform itself was published as late as on March 18 and leaves the impression that it was written overnight and expressly to serve the election campaign. Many of the measures proposed in that document are indicated as pressing: urgent measures to stabilize the water sector, an immediate election of new complements of the Supreme Judicial Council and of the regulators, etc. Unlike all other entrants in the parliamentary elections, Rise Up! Thugs Out! has a detailed plan to have expressly appointed commission scrutinize all office holders, bodies and institutions during the GERB incumbency, plus the regulatory authorities and a long list of wholly and partly State-owned companies. The scrutiny is also supposed to find out why Bulgaria has “the highest COVID lethality rate in the EU” and check all major public procurements under the three Boyko Borissov cabinets. According to the platform, the coalition intends to publicize the results of the scrutiny and “make sure that fair court trials will take place”. Support Base Profile Rise Up! Thugs Up! largely targets the votes of people who staged street demonstrations and rallies, civil disobedience and thoroughfare blockades in the summer of 2020 to protest against corruption and force the Government and the Prosecutor General to resign. The coalition’s key pledge that it will not let GERB and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) govern Bulgaria ever again is likely to attract voters who are disappointed with the two parties (which, incidentally, have never formed a ruling coalition). This rallying cry, however, does not guarantee electoral support by itself simply because the same promise can also be heard, time and again, from Democratic Bulgaria, There Is Such a People and, less often, from the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Ataka, to mention but a few. Worse yet, the inflammatory rhetoric that the Rise Up! Thugs Out! leaders have adopted as street protest organizers is also used by other campaign contestants across the spectrum, from Ataka to Democratic Bulgaria. Such strong language, through, can be counterproductive in enlisting voter support. Secondly, while replacing the elites and bringing in new faces topped the agenda of the protests, quite a few of the Rise Up! Thugs Out! leading candidates for Parliament have a political past (outstanding examples being former MPs Maya Manolova, Tatyana Doncheva, Maria Cappone and Nastimir Ananiev). Thirdly, the 2020 protests got backing from a variety of groups for a variety of reasons. Now, however, it is not clear whether the people who then stood behind the slogans and demands of the protests would espouse Rise Up! Thugs Out! in this particular configuration. Tactics, Ambitions, Goals and Messages The tactics of Rise Up! Thugs Out! are clearly influenced by the months-long protests last summer and, not surprisingly, many of their elements are present in these tactics. They include slogans (the name of the coalition untypically combining two of these, complete with exclamation marks), seeking to legitimize the coalition by the protests (“people asked for . . .”, “people don’t want . . .”, and implied siding with President Rumen Radev’s confrontation with the Government. But riding the wave of last summer’s street protests can be both a strength and a weakness for Rise Up! Thugs Out!. A couple of slogans may bring out large crowds of protesters, but they are hardly enough to motivate them to go to the polls, all the more so that one of the key demands of the protest: resignation of the Government, has become totally pointless with regular elections due on April 4. Personalities New and familiar faces mix and mingle in the personalities catalogue of Rise Up! Thugs Up!. Seasoned politicians among them include, above all, former National Ombudsman Maya Manolova and Tatyana Doncheva, both lawyers, former ranking members of the BSP, and long-serving Socialist MPs. Other notable figures are Maria Cappone of the United People’s Party (who was the wealthiest MP in 2005, worth 3.7 million leva in real estate and company shares with her husband) and Nastimir Ananiev (now leader of the Volt European Party and formerly of the Right-wing Reformist Bloc and the Bulgaria for the Citizens Movement). RY/LN/LG