Cablegate: Bulgaria's Next Prime Minister

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SOFIA 000672


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/22/2018

Classified By: Ambassador Nancy McEldowney for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: The odds-on favorite to become Bulgaria's
next Prime Minister is Sofia Mayor Boyko Borissov. A rough
hewn and volatile figure with rumored links to organized
crime, Borissov exploits the electorate's yearning for a
dominant leader to reverse the perceived failures of current
PM Stanishev and his gridlocked three-party coalition.
Touting his lack of sophistication as a badge of honor,
Borissov is the most cunning and charismatic player of the
day. He is explicitly cultivating U.S. and European approval
to bolster his legitimacy. Using this to our advantage, we
can push him and his GERB party into more responsible
positions as next year's elections approach. END SUMMARY.

2. (C) Though elections are still as many as nine months
out, Sofia Mayor Borissov is the man to beat. A political
headliner, he outpaces PM Stanishev by over 30 points, vying
with President Parvanov in popularity. Borissov's charisma,
prominent (and usually favorable) media treatment, and the
discredited state of rival leaders (and their parties) propel
his two-year old GERB party. Despite self-styled claims that
it is Bulgaria's "new center-right," GERB's appeal flows from
larger-than-life personality and his populist bent. He
attracts disenchanted
and alienated voters from both the left and right, as well as
huge swaths of the protest vote against the unpopular
Socialist-led coalition.

Raw Political Force

3. (C) A canny political operator, Borissov is smart and
savvy even if relatively unsophisticated. More comfortable
on the Bulgarian than the world stage, he is no novice at
playing on larger arenas. He fully understands power -- real
and symbolic -- and how to hold and exercise it.
Underestimating his political talent or drive is a costly
mistake for his rivals and opponents. Called a "raw
political force," with emphasis on all three words, he is an
instinctual decision maker. As a political operator, he is
more tactician and inside player than strategist. At times
mercurial, he can be (according to our GERB contacts)
"impatient" and "change his
mind every day" even when being completely focused on
clearly defined goals. Borissov has a tainted past --
ties to 1990s mafia leaders -- but denies any involvement
in crime. During his Secretary General tenure at the MOI, he
personally led raids against drug dealers, but there
were no busts of any major OC figures. As elections near,
questions about his past are likely to increase, especially
from the desperate Socialists who plan to mount a negative
campaign to cast the election as a "referendum on

Springboard Sofia

4. (C) Borissov touts U.S. and European ties whenever
possible, including his support from the center-right
Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Hanns Seidel Foundation,
the Robert Schumann Foundation, and his personal
relationship with Angela Merkel and the European People's
Party. In his initial meeting with the Ambassador, he
Bulgarians are not used to taking decisions on their own
and need Washington and Brussels to "tell the PM what needs
to be done." He added that when GERB wins, he plans to have
a foreign
expert in each ministry to support and monitor its work. A
directive not collaborative leader, Borissov would dominate
whatever cabinet he chooses.

5. (C) We have consistently urged Borissov to develop teams
elaborate policy on key issues, such as national security,
energy security, and rule of law, and to identify and groom
candidates for senior and mid-level government positions. We
doubt the planning process has gone much further than making
lists and some initial contacts, but preliminary soundings
hold some promise.
Borissov and nominal party head Tsvetan Tsvetanov shared
names of potential future ministers in a GERB-led
government, including some non-GERB choices; some hold
promise. GERB has
already floated the Finance Ministry to World Bank Director
Kristalina Georgieva and the MFA to GERB European Parliament
Roumyana Zheleva. Borissov is a master of misdirection and
false leads, at times hinting he may not take the Prime

SOFIA 00000672 002 OF 002

Minister's position but offer it to someone else. This helps
fuel speculation that he has the Presidency in mind, a
calculated ploy to boost his image as a national unifier.

Wild Cards: Russia, Ataka

6. (C) Despite his pro-European talk, insiders believe
Borissov is a "wild card" when it comes to Russia. He is
close to Lukoil regional
head Valentin Zlatev, rumored to support GERB with
cash. (Hedging bets, Slatev is also a big BSP money patron).
Borissov keeps a wary eye on electoral dynamics. A GERB
survey shows that 64 percent of likely GERB voters and 67
percent of Bulgarians in general favor close ties with
Russia. With an alienated, angry electorate, GERB looks to
minimize defections to radical fringes, especially Ataka.
Based on the survey, Borissov reportedly told his team that
he would make pro-Russian statements from "time to time"
and stay away from the Russia vs. NATO debate to keep his
electorate happy.

7. (C) Borissov may be prepared to tack away from
center-right positions under certain circumstances. For
example, GERB has flirted with Ataka, conducting some joint
actions with them and (sometimes) speaking well of their
leader Volen
Siderov. He assures us he is doing so only to keep up his
populist credentials and would never form a coalition with
them, in fact, would go into opposition before doing so.
But, if GERB faced the prospect of needing a coalition with
the BSP or ethnically Turkish MRF, odds are Borissov would
manipulate all parties to drive the best bargain.

8. (C) The one constant in Borissov is his need for foreign
validation. He looks to the U.S. for much of that,
showcasing his relations with U.S. politicians and law
enforcement officials. The likely victory of his
personality-based party in the next general elections
Bulgaria's continued political immaturity, as many
still believe in a savior who will quickly resolve
problems. Borissov's need for our blessing and oversized
ego are powerful tools we can use to steer him toward
becoming an effective national leader. Leveraging his pride
need for legitimacy, we can nudge him and his party toward
a modern political formation that naturally looks to the U.S.
as a genuine partner. But in any case, if Borissov wins, it
will be quite a ride.

© Scoop Media

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