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  • Borislav Ivanov

Bulgarian government collapses after no-confidence vote; Ruling party couldn’t form new coalition

On the 22nd of June, the Bulgarian People’s Assembly held a vote for a no-confidence motion against the ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. This decision might pave the way for a new round of elections, which would be the country’s fourth election cycle since April last year. Despite this, Petkov’s centrist We Continue the Change party has a second chance to propose and form a new government. The question is: Who is this coalition going to be formed with?

The motion was initiated by the largest opposition party, GERB, led by Boyko Borissov, who used to be in charge of Bulgaria for the last 12 years. The vote to topple the government was narrow, with 123 votes in favor and 116 votes against.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiri Petkov (C) leaves the parliament after the end of the debate on the vote of no confidence in Sofia, on 21 June 2022. Photo: EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV

What led to this?

There is a staggering number of reasons as to why this coalition crumbled. The government was barely stable, to begin with, being comprised of 4 completely different political parties, 2 of which were brand-new. The main thing that brought them together was fighting the status-quo and ensuring that GERB isn’t the country’s hegemon anymore. While they united to fight the status-quo, one of the parties within this coalition was the BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party), a firm part of the status-quo and an (indirect) successor of the BCP (Bulgarian Communist Party). This left a significantly high percentage of voters with a sour taste in their mouths; however, anything was better than GERB in most people’s eyes.

The first couple of months were characterized by a noticeable degree of success. Wages and pensions increased, judicial reforms were passed, and foreign investments were attracted. However, the government came under constant attacks from GERB and other political parties, and massive disinformation campaigns served to further polarize the populace.

A defining moment for the coalition was the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, accentuating a rift in the Bulgarian government. Even though the majority of the government, together with the Prime Minister, have taken a strong pro-NATO and pro-European stance since the war began, strong ties still exist between Sofia and Moscow. The Bulgarian Socialist Party, along with the newly elected nationalist and pro-Russian Vazrazhdane (Resurrection) party and Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev, opposed Bulgaria sending any lethal aid to Ukraine. The BSP stated that this is their red line, and if Bulgaria is to send weapons to Ukraine, they’ll leave the coalition. At the same time, the highly pro-western centre-right party Democratic Bulgaria, which is also part of the quadruple coalition, stated that Bulgaria needs to send weapons to Ukraine, and if this doesn’t happen, then their red line will be crossed, and they’ll be the ones leaving the coalition.

This presented Kiril Petkov with a practically unsolvable issue. Despite all of this, the coalition came up with a solution which would satisfy everyone to a reasonable degree – Bulgaria is officially only going to provide Ukraine with non-lethal aid, and it is going to repair Ukrainian military tech, such as tanks. At the same time, it is going to exponentially increase its weapons exports to Poland, which in turn is going to send them to Ukraine. In this way, the BSP could insistently deny any allegations that Bulgaria is directly supplying Ukraine with lethal aid and, in this way, assure that it doesn’t lose its voter base.

©EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO | Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) and Prime Minister of Bulgaria Kiril Petkov (L) shake hands as they attend their meeting in Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine, 28 April 2022.

The recent crisis

Although this crisis was solved, a new storm was coming. During the last month of Petkov’s rule, a handful of key events occurred: the parliament approved specific budget reforms, regained control over the Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint at the Bulgarian Turkish border, finished building a gas pipeline with Greece, and was about to enact judicial reforms via various mechanisms. Another even more key motion that was going to be voted on in the People’s assembly was the approval of the so-called “French Deal” on lifting the veto on North Macedonia.

This was the breaking point for the fourth party in the ruling coalition – ITN (There Is Such a People), a populist, anti-establishment party run by famous singer and TV host Slavi Trifonov. In a video he posted on his Facebook page, Trifonov was seen screaming about how he left the coalition “because of MACEDONIA!”. It is suspected, however, that his real reasons for leaving the coalition lie with not getting enough funding from the budget reforms and with an alleged connection between him and the aforementioned border checkpoint.

Due to these speculated shady connections and intentions of Trifonov, 6 of his MEPs resigned from ITN, rejoining the coalition as independents.

Slavi Trifonov, Leader of ITN

A chain reaction

Almost immediately after the collapse of the coalition, GERB’s Boyko Borissov announced that they’d put a no-confidence motion forward. He stated that everyone from his political party would vote in favor of the government’s resignation. Quickly after that, Mustafa Karadayı from the Turkish MRF (Movement for Rights and Freedoms) party stated that the motion would also be supported from their side. Kostadin Kostadinov, leader of the nationalist Resurrection party, boosted his already massive disinformation and propaganda campaign and organized anti-government protests.

As a response to this, people from all over the country spontaneously organized in large numbers in support of Kiril Petkov and in opposition to GERB, DPS (MRF), Vazrazhdane (Resurrection), and ITN.

On Wednesday, 22.06.2022, after a lengthy debate, the motion was passed with 123 votes in favor, and 116 against, making Bulgaria’s future once again highly uncertain.

No-confidence vote; Bulgarian parliament

What is going to happen next?

After a non-confidence motion is passed, the sequence of events is the following:

1) The party with the highest number of votes, which in this case is We Continue the Change, is first given the opportunity to form a new governing coalition.

2) If the leading party is unable or unwilling to do so, the opportunity is passed on to the second party with the highest number of votes. In this case, this is GERB. Boyko Borissov has already stated that they are unwilling to form a governing coalition with anyone at this time, and therefore they will pass on this opportunity.

3) If a coalition isn’t formed at this point, the president (Rumen Radev) has to choose a third party to which this opportunity is to be presented. It is improbable this opportunity is to be given to DPS (MRF) or BSP due to soured relations between them and the president. This leaves Vazrazhdane, which is also almost impossible to be picked, and ITN or Democratic Bulgaria, one of which is the most likely candidate. However, they are most likely going to be incapable of forming a coalition.

4) If all of this fails, the parliament is disbanded, and the president appoints a caretaker government. This is a bad outcome, considering the currently ongoing war next to Bulgaria, the pandemic and its subsequent economic crisis, and the political crisis in Bulgaria, just to list a few reasons.

5) The final step is deciding on a date for a new election cycle. If people really want their voices to be heard and the situation to actually change, everyone must vote during these elections.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev. Photo: EPA-EFE/Szilard Koszticsak

The situation now

On the 1st of July, the outgoing Prime Minister Kiril Petkov stated that We Continue the

Change would nominate the Minister of Finance, Asen Vassilev. Later that day, President Rumen Radev handed Vassilev a mandate to form a new government.

To form a functional coalition, Vassilev needed six additional independent members of parliament.

He fell 4 MPs short of this goal, returning the mandate unfulfilled.

As GERB have firmly stated that they are unwilling to form a government of their own, it is now up to the President to pick a party, which he is going to award with a mandate to form a government.

Assen Vassilev. Photo by Bulgarian Ministry of Finance

Closing remarks

This is another pivotal moment in Bulgaria’s increasingly more turbulent political circumstance.

Right now, it is up to the people to decide on Bulgaria’s future. Do they want a return to the status-quo in the hope of achieving stability, no matter if corruption is let to flourish once again? Do they want to fight for change and for a better future? Do they want a more European Bulgaria with closer ties to the West? Or do they want a more Eastern Bulgaria, with closer ties to Russia and push Bulgaria closer to a civil war?

No matter what your political stance is, you need to vote. If you want anything to be accomplished, your voice needs to be accounted for. You dictate the future.

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