Bulgarian Prime Minister asks for support ahead of no-confidence vote

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) – Bulgarian lawmakers on Tuesday began debating a motion of no confidence in the minority government, on the eve of a vote that could oust centrist Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who was elected just months ago on a promise that the fight corruption.

Parliament is due to vote on Wednesday on a proposal tabled last week by the centre-right opposition party GERB on the government’s handling of public finances and economic policy in the face of soaring inflation.

If passed as expected, the motion will once again plunge the NATO-European Union nation of 7 million into political turmoil. Three separate parliamentary elections were held in 2021 as Bulgaria lurched from one political crisis to another. Political instability could also reinforce historically strong Russian influence in the Black Sea country, which has seen a surge in pro-Russian and anti-Western propaganda.

Petkov’s coalition controls just 109 of the 240 parliamentary seats after his populist coalition partner, the There Such a People party, resigned this month over similar tax complaints and Bulgaria’s ties with neighboring North Macedonia. While five party MPs defected to Petkov, he needs at least another 6 votes to survive Wednesday’s vote.

Inflation in Bulgaria –– the poorest member of the EU — hit 15.6% in May, marking the highest year-on-year rise in consumer prices since 2008.

About a thousand pro-government protesters rallied near the parliament building in the capital Sofia late Tuesday to show their support for Petkov’s government with chants such as “We will succeed together”.

Petkov, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated businessman who was elected in December, addressed the rally and told supporters that “we will all change Bulgaria together”.

“I think no matter what tomorrow’s vote looks like, nobody can stop us,” he said. “Sooner or later Bulgaria will be where it should be: a prosperous European (country), with functioning institutions, a functioning judiciary, good education (and) health care.”

Several hundred anti-government protesters also gathered near Parliament on Tuesday night.

Petkov on Tuesday urged lawmakers to keep “the interests of the people” in mind when voting.

Ruslan Stefanov, program director at the Center for the Study of Democracy, a Sofia-based think tank, described the no-confidence motion as the result of “internal bickering over budget allocations.”

“This is not a good moment for Bulgaria not to have a parliament,” he told The Associated Press. “Bulgaria is about to receive about 4 billion (euro) in funds from the EU Recovery and Resilience Mechanism, but before that it has to pass a package of about 20 laws – Bulgaria needs this money.”

Bulgaria has staunchly supported Western sanctions against Moscow since its February 24 invasion of Ukraine. In late April, Russia cut off gas supplies to the country after officials refused to pay bills in rubles, Russia’s currency.

But the current crisis, Stefanov added, especially if it lasts longer and leads to more elections, would “favor forces that will be much closer to Russia, that will win a bigger slice of the pie,” possibly causing problems with Bulgaria’s western countries partners would lead.

GERB, the opposition party that sparked Wednesday’s vote, is led by former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who ruled Bulgaria for about a decade until 2021.

In March, Borissov, who faced massive anti-government protests in 2020, was arrested along with other members of the GERB party following an investigation by EU prosecutors as part of a fight against corruption. He was released a day later without charge.


McGrath contributed from Sighisoara, Romania.

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