July 4, 2019 / 5:53 PM / a year ago

Bulgaria cuts state subsidies for political parties, opposition protests

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s parliament cut state subsidies for political parties and allowed unlimited funding from businesses in a move condemned by the largest opposition party and anti-corruption groups.

The ruling centre-right GERB party, backed by some of its coalition allies and some opposition groups, approved the changes which it sees as a means to quell widespread frustration with political elites in the European Union’s poorest and most corrupt member state.

“Political parties should go on a financial diet,” said the GERB party’s Georgi Markov. “There were no state subsidies in the 1990s, yet then the political parties were strong.”

State subsidies for political parties that won at least 1% of the ballot in the last election will be cut to 1 lev per vote won, from the current 11 levs, parliament decided.

Deputies also voted to allow donations from companies, restricting only businesses with delayed dues to the state or with off-shore registrations. They did not introduce a limit on the amount of the donations.

“Today you are introducing a new tax, tax “corruption”, which will lead to total distortion of the political process,” Dragomir Stoynev, a senior Socialist party member, told the chamber.

Political analysts say the changes could make politicians much more dependent on generous benefactors and cause them to disregard the public interest. Smaller political factions may struggle to attract funding.

“The cut in subsidies just months before the local election in the autumn will in reality impede the efficiency of the campaigns of the parties that were relying on them,” said Vanya Nusheva of anti-corruption group Transparency International.

“The changes to political funding are premature and not well considered,” she said, noting there were no restrictions on donations from gambling companies or firms that bid for public procurement deals.

In 2016, more than 2.5 million Bulgarians, fed up with low living standards and links between corruption-prone politicians and local oligarchs, voted in a referendum to have the subsidies cut. Political analysts say the changes are likely to pose more risks to the political process than address public concerns.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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