By Tsvetelia Tsolova
SOFIA (Reuters) – A no-confidence vote on Wednesday threatens to topple Bulgaria’s government and Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who pledged to tackle corruption and took an unusually strong stance against Russia.
Petkov’s four-party coalition took office six months ago only to disintegrate earlier this month over disagreements on budget spending and whether Bulgaria should unlock North Macedonia’s European Union accession.
The European Union country now faces a new round of political turmoil and possibly its fourth national election since April 2021, putting at risk millions of euros from EU recovery funds and its plans to adopt the euro in 2024.
The gridlock may also hinder Bulgaria’s efforts to secure stable natural gas inflows after Moscow cut gas deliveries to the Balkan country – almost completely reliant on Russian gas – over Sofia’s refusal to pay in roubles.
Speaking during a debate on the no-confidence motion in Parliament on Tuesday, Petkov appealed to lawmakers to support his cabinet amid a war in Ukraine and surging inflation.
“This government will not allow stealing from Bulgarian taxpayers,” Petkov said. “You have to decide – you have a genuine chance to push the country into political crisis in times of war.”
Petkov, a 42-year-old Harvard graduate, has taken a strong pro-European and pro-NATO position, an unusual stance for a country with a traditionally friendly stance toward Russia.
Petkov sacked his defence minister in February for refusing to call the Russian invasion of Ukraine “war”, backed EU sanctions against Moscow and agreed to repair Ukraine’s heavy military machinery while stopping short of sending arms to Kyiv.
The former coalition partner ITN left the government after accusing Petkov of disregarding Bulgaria’s interests by pushing to lift its veto on North Macedonia’s EU accession talks under pressure from its EU and NATO allies.
Petkov has argued that any decision on the veto would be put to vote in parliament and accused the leadership of populist ITN party of deliberately hindering the cabinet’s anti-graft agenda.
Six ITN deputies have so far defected and pledged to support Petkov and his drive to tackle corruption but the government still stands six votes shy of the 121 absolute majority.
Analysts see a new round of turbulence for months ahead.
“Even if the government survives the vote, it could hardly secure a stable backing in a longer run,” said Dobromir Zhivkov, a political analyst with Market Links pollster. “Early elections are very much on the table.”
The motion against the ruling coalition was proposed by the opposition GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
Annual inflation surged to 24-year high in May to 15.6%. Finance Minister Assen Vassilev has said the rise was mainly due to high energy and food prices, driven by the war in Ukraine.
Fresh polls are likely to benefit Borissov’s GERB party as well as pro-Russian parties like nationalist Revival as the economic woes and the war in Ukraine polarise the society.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, Editing by Michael Kahn and Angus MacSwan)