Bulgarian government faces no-confidence vote and political unrest

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov speaks during an interview with Reuters in Sofia, Bulgaria March 7, 2022. REUTERS/Spasiyana Sergieva

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SOFIA, June 22 (Reuters) – A no-confidence vote on Wednesday threatens to topple the Bulgarian government and Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who have pledged to fight corruption and have taken an unusually tough stance against Russia.

Petkov’s four-party coalition took office six months ago only to disintegrate earlier this month over disagreements over budget spending and whether Bulgaria should unblock North Macedonia’s membership to the European Union. Read more

The European Union country is now facing a fresh wave of political unrest and possibly its fourth national election since April 2021, putting millions of euros from EU recovery funds and its plans to adopt the euro in 2024.

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The standoff could also hamper Bulgaria’s efforts to secure stable natural gas inflows after Moscow cut gas supplies to the Balkan country – almost entirely dependent on Russian gas – due to Sofia’s refusal to pay in rubles. .

Speaking during a debate on the no-confidence motion in parliament on Tuesday, Petkov called on lawmakers to support his cabinet amid a war in Ukraine and runaway inflation.

“This government will not allow Bulgarian taxpayers to be robbed,” Petkov said. “You have to decide – you have a real chance of plunging the country into a wartime political crisis.”

Petkov, a 42-year-old Harvard graduate, has taken a strong pro-European and pro-NATO stance, an unusual stance for a country with a traditionally friendly stance toward Russia.

Petkov fired his defense minister in February for refusing to call Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a ‘war’, supported EU sanctions against Moscow and agreed to repair the country’s heavy military machinery. Ukraine while stopping before sending arms to Kyiv.

Former coalition partner ITN quits government after accusing Petkov of disregarding Bulgaria’s interests by pushing to lift his veto on North Macedonia’s EU accession talks under pressure of its EU and NATO allies.

Petkov argued that any decision on the veto would be subject to a vote in parliament and accused the leadership of the populist ITN party of deliberately obstructing the cabinet’s anti-corruption agenda.

So far, six ITN lawmakers have defected and pledged their support for Petkov and his drive to fight corruption, but the government still has six votes short of an absolute majority of 121.

Analysts predict a new wave of turbulence for the coming months.

“Even if the government survives the vote, it could hardly secure longer-term stable support,” said Dobromir Zhivkov, political analyst at Market Links. “The early elections are definitely on the table.”

The motion against the ruling coalition was proposed by former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s opposition GERB party. Read more

Annual inflation hit its highest level in 24 years in May, at 15.6%. Finance Minister Assen Vassilev said the rise was mainly due to high energy and food prices, driven by the war in Ukraine.

New polls should benefit Borissov’s GERB party as well as pro-Russian parties like the Nationalist Renewal, as economic woes and the war in Ukraine polarize society.

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Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, editing by Michael Kahn and Angus MacSwan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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