Bulgaria’s reformist government led by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov lost a no-confidence motion filed by former ruling party Gerb and backed by three more parties.
The vote puts an end to the Petkov government’s efforts to tackle corruption in Bulgaria — ranked by Transparency International as the most corrupt state in the EU — and plunges the country back into political instability.
123 out of 240 MPs voted against Petkov’s government on June 22, including those from Gerb, the ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), There Are Such People (ITN) – that until June 8 was a member of the ruling coalition – and far-right, pro-Russian Vazrazhdane.
The government was backed by all members of the ruling coalition and six former members of ITN who left the party after its decision to quit the coalition.
“It was my honour to lead a government taken down by Borissov, Peevski, Trifonov and Mitrofanova,” Petkov said after the vote.
He was referring to Gerb’s leader and former prime minister Boyko Borissov, US-blacklisted DPS member Delyan Peevski, the leader of ITN Slavi Trifonov and the Russian ambassador to Bulgaria Eleonora Mitrofanova.
“This vote is a small step on the long road. They did not understand that they cannot win the Bulgarian people this way,” Petkov said.
Demonstrations outside parliament
The vote took place in a tense atmosphere with a thousands-strong demonstration in support of the cabinet and rival, but significantly smaller, protests against it.
Outside parliament, supporters of Petkov’s coalition were chanting “Mafia out” during and after the vote. The voting was live broadcasted by BNT and protesters were aware of what was happening in the parliament.
At the back of parliament, several hundred people, suspected to have been organised by the DPS and Vazrazhdane, cheered the fall of Petkov.
“When outside parliament Peevski protests against this government, when Gerb clearly expresses its desire that it will not support it, when Vazrazhdane under agreement with Mitrofanova stands against us, while at the same time the square is full of young people who say ‘I support you’, you understand that the no-confidence vote is not of big significance,” Petkov said prior to the vote in an interview with bTv.
Bulgaria's next government?
President Rumen Radev is now required give a mandate to Petkov’s Change Continues to try to form a new government. To succeed, Petkov and the party’s co-leader, Finance Minister Assen Vassilev, must persuade at least six or seven more MPs to back them. Even in that case, the ruling coalition would have a fragile majority and, according to analysts, may not survive more than a few months.
If Change Continues fails, Radev is obliged to give the second mandate to Gerb, which is the second-largest party in parliament. The party theoretically could get a majority, but would have to enter in coalition with anti-EU and anti-Nato Vazrazhdane, the rather nationalistic and Euro-sceptic ITN and with the DPS. The latter unofficially supported Gerb during Borissov’s last government. However, a formal coalition with the party could cost Gerb support as the DPS has become a synonym of corruption and murky deals between politicians and controversial businessmen.
“Looking at potential alternatives to Petkov’s government, one option could be the same three-party coalition government with a reshuffled lineup of ministers, particularly in the position of prime minister. Such a cabinet could potentially attract support from the populist ITN without it joining the coalition,” Teneo commented.
If the second mandate fails to produce a government, Radev can pick any of the remaining parties in parliament for the third and final mandate. If, as expected, it also fails, Bulgaria would be heading towards a general election this autumn — after the three general elections in 2021.
Polls show that most Bulgarians do not want an early election and would prefer a functioning government that could adopt measures supporting households and business during the economic crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Political instability could also slow the adoption of more than 20 bills needed to unlock additional funding from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). Also, it could interrupt efforts to secure natural gas supplies for the winter period.
Teneo noted that a government not led by Change Continues would likely change Bulgaria’s policy towards Russia, “although this would not necessarily mean a 180-degree turnaround”.