Bulgaria’s main pro-Western parties resume talks on joint government

Bulgaria’s main pro-Western parties resume talks on joint government
Gerb's choice for prime minister Mariya Gabriel (left) with party leader Boyko Borissov (centre). / Gerb
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia May 31, 2023

The two largest formations in Bulgaria’s parliament – Gerb-SDS and Change Continues-Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB) — resumed negotiations on a joint government on May 31 after they were frozen by Gerb a week earlier. 

The two formations, until recently fierce rivals, decided to join forces and form a pro-Western government in the highly fragmented parliament in order to implement key reforms and adopt a budget plan for 2023. They have already agreed on a joint legislation programme.

Under the proposed deal, the government would have a rotating prime minister, a position to be held by Nikolai Denkov, nominated by CC-DB, for the first nine months followed by Gerb’s choice Mariya Gabriel. 

However, Gerb decided to put the negotiations on hold after Radostin Vassilev – until recently a member of CC – released a recording of CC’s internal meeting held at the night before the planned government was announced. Gerb was angered by some parts of the recording.

Subsequently, Gerb decided to unfreeze the talks but is demanding that CC-DB replace some ministerial candidates who are members of CC with experts.

After the meeting Denkov said as quoted by Sega news outlet that party leaders and the candidates for premier discussed which experts could replace CC’s candidates and if they can actually do a good job.

These experts would be proposed or approved by Gerb but should not be members of the party. It is still unclear which of the candidates CC-DB would agree to replace. June 5 is the deadline to either return the mandate to President Rumen Radev fulfilled or give it up.

When handing the mandate to Denkov, Radev urged the coalition to give up trying to form a government, claiming the leaked recording compromised it. That provoked a thousands-strong protest in Sofia as people are accusing Radev of working for Russian interests and seeking to keep ruling the country through caretaker governments.

Dnevnik news outlet reported that far-right Vazrazhdane, the ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and There Are Such People (ITN) oppose the formation of the joint government. The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) remains rather quiet, although its leader Kornelia Ninova has said the party would not back such a government.

At the same time, the state security services and the prosecution engaged in unexpected activity against Gerb leader Boyko Borissov and CC’s leaders Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev.

On May 30, the Sofia prosecution asked chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev to demand the lifting of Borissov’s immunity, based on evidence of money laundering related to the Barcelonagate money laundering case.

Borissov said he would not give up his immunity, although members of almost all political parties urged him to do so.

The information about possible money laundering involving people linked to Borissov was first revealed back in 2020 by Spanish El Periodico and confirmed at the time by the police. In February 2022, the government said it had received new evidence indicating that €5mn was laundered in the scandal.

The probe was then dropped, but has now been reactivated, coinciding with a rift between Borissov and Geshev.

On May 31, the prosecution started interrogating key witnesses related to the Barcelonagate case, including the former top model Ivayla Bakalova and the former head of Lukoil Neftochin Valentin Zlatev.

Meanwhile, the prosecution summoned the co-leaders of CC for interrogation as part of an investigation into threats to Radostin Vassilev, although Vassilev has said the two leaders have not threatened him.

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