Bulgarian government loses no-confidence vote, early elections looming

  • Disagreements over fiscal policy as inflation rises
  • The government had a strong position on NATO
  • Petkov hopes defections will form a new government

SOFIA (Reuters) – A vote of no-confidence on Wednesday toppled the Bulgarian government and Prime Minister Kirill Petkov, who had vowed to tackle corruption and took an unusually strong stance against Russia.

Opposition lawmakers brought down the government – which took office six months ago – by 123 votes to 116 after the ruling coalition lost its majority over disagreements over budget spending and whether Bulgaria should open the door for North Macedonia to join the European Union.

They accused the government of failing to implement fiscal and economic policies to tame rising inflation in the poorest member state of the European Union.

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Bulgaria now faces its fourth general election since April 2021, jeopardizing millions of euros in recovery funds from the European Union and its plans to adopt the euro in 2024.

“This vote is only a small step in a very long road,” Petkov said after the vote. What they fail to understand is that this is not the way to win over the Bulgarian people.

Petkov, 42, a Harvard graduate who has vowed to fight corruption, has taken a strong pro-European and pro-NATO stance since Russia invaded Ukraine, an unusual stance for a country traditionally friendly to Moscow.

Petkov fired his defense minister in February for refusing to call the Russian invasion of Ukraine a “war,” backed EU sanctions against Moscow and agreed to repair heavy military equipment for Ukraine while refraining from sending weapons to Kyiv.

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The ensuing political stalemate may hamper Bulgaria’s efforts to secure stable natural gas flows after Moscow cut off gas shipments to the country, which was almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, due to Sofia’s refusal to pay in rubles.

Deputy Prime Minister Asin Vasiliev has expressed hope that Parliament will continue to vote to approve budget changes drafted to increase state pensions and support families as food and fuel prices rise.

The former coalition partner ITN left the government after Petkov was accused of ignoring Bulgaria’s interests by pressing for a veto over North Macedonia’s EU accession talks under pressure from its EU and NATO allies.

Petkov argued that any decision on the veto must be put to a vote in Parliament. Earlier on Wednesday, in a surprising turn, West Germany’s main opposition party said it would support the lifting of the veto, but political wrangling prevented the issue from being discussed.

Lawmakers will now meet again on Thursday to discuss whether Sofia should open the door to Skopje joining the European Union. Petkov will retain his Bulgarian veto at this week’s EU summit, unless parliament gives him a different mandate.

Petkov has rejected any coalition talks with opposition parties in parliament, but will seek defections from lawmakers to garner enough support to form a new government and avoid early elections.

President Rumen Radev is required to call elections within two months and appoint an interim administration if Petkov fails to muster a majority to form a new government and if two other parties in Parliament cannot form a government.

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The motion against the ruling coalition was proposed by former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB party, which is likely to benefit from new opinion polls alongside pro-Russia parties such as Nationalist Revival in a society polarized by economic problems and the Ukraine war.

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Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, writing by Michael Kahn, editing by Bernadette Bohm, David Gregorio and Richard Boleyn

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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