Bulgarian government loses no-confidence vote, early elections threaten

Written by Javed Iqbal

  • Disagreements over fiscal policy while inflation rose
  • The government had a strong NATO stance
  • Petkov hopes to defector to form new government

SOFIA, June 22 (Reuters) – A no-confidence vote on Wednesday toppled the Bulgarian government and Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who had promised to tackle corruption and took an unusually strong stance against Russia.

Opposition lawmakers overthrew the government – which took power six months ago – by a vote of 123-116, after the ruling coalition lost its majority over disputes over budget spending and whether Bulgaria should unlock Northern Macedonia’s EU accession.

They accused the government of failing to implement fiscal and economic policies to curb rising inflation in the EU’s poorest member states.

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Bulgaria is now facing possibly its fourth parliamentary election since April 2021, jeopardizing millions of euros from the EU’s recovery funds and its plans to adopt the euro in 2024.

“This vote is only a small step in a very long way,” Petkov said after the vote. “What they do not understand is that this is not the way to win over the Bulgarian people.”

Petkov, a 42-year-old Harvard candidate who had vowed to fight corruption, has taken a strong pro-European and pro-NATO stance since Russia invaded Ukraine, an unusual stance for a country traditionally friendly to Moscow.

Petkov fired his defense minister in February for refusing to call the Russian invasion of Ukraine “war”, supporting EU sanctions against Moscow and agreeing to repair Ukraine’s heavy military machinery while stopping sending weapons to Kiev.

The ensuing political crisis may also hamper Bulgaria’s efforts to secure a steady flow of natural gas after Moscow cut gas supplies to the country, which was almost completely dependent on Russian gas, due to Sofia’s refusal to pay in rubles.

Deputy Prime Minister Assen Vassilev expressed hope that parliament would still vote in favor of approving budget changes drafted to raise public pensions and support households as food and fuel prices rise.

Former coalition partner ITN left the government after accusing Petkov of overriding Bulgaria’s interests by pushing to lift its veto on northern Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations under pressure from its EU and NATO allies.

Petkov has argued that any veto decision should be put to a vote in parliament. Earlier Wednesday, in a sudden shift, the main opposition party, the GERB, said it would support the lifting of the veto, but political strife prevented a debate on the issue.

Legislators will now meet again on Thursday to discuss whether Sofia should unlock Skopje’s EU accession. Petkov will maintain Bulgaria’s veto at this week’s EU summit, unless Parliament gives him another mandate.

Petkov has rejected all coalition negotiations with opposition parties in the House, but will seek resignation from lawmakers to provide adequate support for a new government and avoid early elections.

President Rumen Radev is obliged to call elections within two months and appoint an interim administration if Petkov fails to gather a majority for a new cabinet and if two other parties in parliament are unable to form a government.

The proposal against the ruling coalition was proposed by former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB party, which is likely to benefit from new polls along with pro-Russian parties like Nationalist Revival in a society polarized by economic problems and the Ukraine war.

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Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, authorship by Michael Kahn, editing by Bernadette Baum, David Gregorio and Richard Pullin

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Javed Iqbal

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