Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted on November 16 2016 to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s government, tabled after his party’s sweeping defeat in presidential elections three days earlier.
The sitting was presided over by National Assembly Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, who was the candidate of Borissov’s GERB party in the presidential elections, and who was defeated at the hands of socialist-backed nominee Roumen Radev.
The vote was taken after debate of about two hours. There were 218 votes in favour, none against and two abstentions.
Borissov, who had staked the continuation of his government on the outcome of the November 2016 presidential elections, and lost, addressed the sitting for about 10 minutes, walking out of the House after he did so.
He said that the while the government was stepping down, it would continue to run the country until the election of a new government and would ensure continuity in the governance of Bulgaria.
Borissov congratulated the winners of the presidential elections, saying that he “does not remember such fair elections”. He added that for the sake of maintaining stability in the country, it was necessary to make compromises with various parties.
“The vote on Sunday made it clear that people want new, change,” he said.
“Governing is conferred by the people and the moment that they have their doubts that this is the appropriate government, it has to be handed back immediately. This is my conviction and personal creed. The people said on Sunday, look for another way to govern the state,” Borissov said.
He urged political parties to come up with a caretaker government, saying that this should be done by the BSP and Radev, to avoid a scenario by which incumbent President Rossen Plevneliev appoints a caretaker cabinet now and then Radev appoints a different one on taking office in January 2017.
Later, speaking to reporters outside the House, Borissov said that he would not nominate anyone to the caretaker cabinet.
In his speech to MPs, Borissov urged parties to maintain calm in the state, and to heed what people had said in the November 6 referendum. He said that in voting on Budget 2017, populist proposals should be avoided.
First to speak in debate on the resignation was Valeri Simeonov, co-leader of the Patriotic Front parliamentary group. With Volen Siderov’s Ataka, the PF mounted a joint campaign in the presidential elections, with their candidate Krassimir Karakachanov running third.
Simeonov, whose Patriotic Front came on board in November 2014 as a minority partner in the Borissov coalition government arrangement, said that for the sake of stability, there should be no drastic changes.
Simeonov called on MPs from GERB, when the President offered them a mandate to form a government, to form the same government but with a different Prime Minister.
This was a reference to the process that follows the resignation of a government, by which the President then three times offers a mandate to seek to form a government – first to the largest party in the National Assembly (in this case, Borissov’s GERB), then the second largest (the Bulgarian Socialist Party) and finally to a third party of the head of state’s choice. Failure to form a government opens the way to the appointment of a caretaker government and early parliamentary elections.
Kornelia Ninova, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, said that her party would vote for the government’s resignation.
“We definitely won this election, not alone but with the people,” Ninova said. She said that she was proud of this, but it was not a reason for complacency and aggression, because “it is never honourable to kick someone when they’re down, but it would be irresponsible not to point out your mistakes”.
Ninova accused Borissov’s government of having “done nothing” for the economy and having used EU funds only for motorways and not for productivity. She went on to attack the outgoing government on a number of other issues, from energy matters to foreign policy to the failed nominations for UN chief.
The BSP leader said that two main tasks lay ahead, the government’s resignation and early parliamentary elections.
“In this Parliament we have been the opposition and will remain as such until the end,” said Ninova, who had said on election night that her party would refuse a mandate to try to form a government.
The BSP would not support Budget 2017 and thus become an accomplice to GERB, Ninova said.
Mustafa Karadaya, leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, said that the coalition government formed in November 2014 had been “anti-MRF” and had never been stable.
Former MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan, now leader of his own DOST party – which has too few MPs to be recognised as an official parliamentary group – said that political consultations on calling elections to a Grand National Assembly should begin immediately, “to remove all constitutional obstacles to turning Bulgaria into a modern Euro-Atlantic state”.
Unless this was done, the only road ahead was to another disappointment from another ad hoc governing majority, Mestan said.
A Grand National Assembly is empowered by Bulgaria’s constitution to make fundamental changes to Bulgaria’s constitution. On election night, Borissov called for one. The country has not held a Grand National Assembly since 1990/91, when it drafted its current constitution.
Naiden Zelenogorski of the Reformist Bloc said that the bloc (a minority partner in Borissov’s November 2014 coalition) would support the resignation of the Cabinet but warned that the state was heading on to an uncertain and dangerous road.
“Our assessment of the government is strictly positive, both in general and regarding our ministers,” Zelenogorski said. The resignation should not mean the end of the ruling majority in Parliament, he said, calling for a second-reading vote to approve the anti-corruption law tabled by the bloc’s Meglena Kouneva, one of the deputy prime ministers.
The Reformist Bloc was the alternative to “experiments, adventures and populism,” Zelenogorski said.
Svetoslav Belemezov, of the minority socialist party ABC – which initially was part of Borissov’s November 2014 government but broke away from it in May 2016 – said that his party would vote in favour of the resignation.
Belemezov added that his party opposed the current Parliament rewriting the electoral laws again. This should be done by the next Parliament, which also should discuss the possibility of a Grand National Assembly. ABC was able to develop and propose a new constitution for Bulgaria, he said.
Radan Kanev, of the minority opposition Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria – which has formally quit the Reformist Bloc – said that Bulgaria was heading into its fifth year of political crisis without any clear prospect of emerging from it.
“This crisis is the same problem for different governments and is not an economic crisis in nature,” Kanev said. He said that the reason was the systematic insertion of the party interest above the national interest in the running of the state. This happened in regard to control over justice and the judicial system, the administration, in the spending of EU funds, used in favour of the ruling party.
Tsvetan Tsetanov, leader of the GERB parliamentary group, said that in the government coalition agreement in 2014, GERB had made compromises to make the formation of a cabinet possible. Always, GERB had retreated because it was led solely by the national interest, he said – echoing a frequent GERB refrain about backing down in relation to the Patriotic Front and Reformist Bloc to maintain stability.
The government had achieved stability but “today, however, we are unable to stand before all voters and tell them that this stability will continue,” Tsvetanov said.
He said that GERB was the only party that had never been domineered by the MRF and the only one that had nominated a president in 2011 “and he (Plevneliev) was not supported by the MRF”.
GERB had been honest and this would be assessed on its merits in the next parliamentary elections, Tsvetanov said.