Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov formally resigned on Monday, June 28, after his government lost a no-confidence vote last week. The government fell after it lost the support of the populist There is Such a People (ITN) party which disagreed with its policies on budget spending and the question of North Macedonia’s European Union (EU) accession. The coalition government consisting of Petkov’s pro-EU We Continue the Change (PP) party, the center-left Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), Democratic Bulgaria, ITN, and others had the support of 123 legislators in the 240-seat National Assembly. With the ITN withdrawing support, the government lost the vote with 123 votes against and 116 in favor.
Petkov now has one week to form a new government. If he fails, it is likely that fresh elections will be held – the fourth in nearly a year-and-a-half.
Petkov came to power following the parliamentary elections in November 2021 in which the conservative coalition government led by GERB leader Boyko Borisov was ousted. Borisov was in power in Bulgaria from 2009 till 2021. Under the Borisov regime, attacks on the press, racism, xenophobia, corruption, and organized crime spiked in the country. Anti-corruption protests which started in July 2020 demanding Borisov’s resignation continued in April 2021 when the four-year term of his cabinet ended with the formal resignation of the third Borisov government. In the two consecutive elections held to the National Assembly in April and July 2021, the ITN led by Bulgarian television celebrity Slavi Trifonov emerged as the single largest party but failed to form a majority government. However, ITN suffered setbacks in the election held in November 2021 when Petkov’s PP emerged as the largest party. The ITN then agreed to cooperate with the PP-led coalition.
Ruptures within the coalition emerged following the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. Prime Minister Petkov, who extended strong support to Ukraine, fired his Defense Minister who was seen as pro-Russia. Petkov was accused of toeing the EU’s line and following its diktats against Russia. The question of North Macedonia’s EU membership also played a big role in the government’s collapse. Petkov, at the urging of prominent EU countries, was working to remove the veto Bulgaria has placed on North Macedonia’s joining the EU.
Observers have pointed out that ITN switched sides as part of a political gamble anticipating snap elections in order to improve its ratings by garnering the support of nationalistic sections that do not favor lifting of the Bulgarian veto on North Macedonia’s accession. According to ITN leader Trifonov, North Macedonia should only start negotiations after it has implemented the 2017 good neighbor agreement between Bulgaria and North Macedonia.
Meanwhile, on June 24, PP’s proposal to lift the Bulgarian veto on North Macedonia’s EU accession and continue bilateral talks was passed with the support of the GERB and minority parties in the opposition. Legislators from the ITN voted against the plan while the BSP abstained from voting. The GERB-led government had earlier stalled negotiations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia.
The BSP leadership has slammed the ITN and the opposition for conspiring to destabilize the country and breaking apart the government’s policies to create a welfare state.
Journalist Kadrinka Kadrinova opined in Baricada.org that “without a left-wing movement, Bulgaria will always spin in a closed circle between Kiril and Boyko as there is no choice in Bulgaria because all the politicians offered to us are increasingly right-wing – whether they are thugs or perfumed to Western standards.”