The first reaction of Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov to the statement by ITN party leader Slavi Trifonov that he was withdrawing his party from the ruling coalition was to say that it would be better for there to be a minority government.
Even by the standards of the behaviour within the fractious quadripartite coalition that took office in Bulgaria at the end of 2021 – at the close of a year of political melodrama that saw three parliamentary elections – Trifonov and ITN have been especially troublesome.
Petkov, co-leader of the We Continue the Change party that is the governing mandate holder, emphasised at the June 8 news conference that it would be better to have a minority government than cave in to ITN’s demands.
The prospects of that minority government would be more than a matter of just arithmetic, though that arithmetic must be recorded. The departure of the 25 ITN MPs would reduce the ruling coalition to 109 seats in Bulgaria’s 240-seat National Assembly.
Remaining in the ruling coalition would be WCC, Kornelia Ninova’s Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Democratic Bulgaria coalition.
As noted, relations between those three groups have not been easy, and many observers have noted the decisive sway that the BSP has had in the ruling coalition, notably but not limited to opposition to supplying arms to Ukraine, and the socialists’ demands for substantially increased pensions and social spending.
Petkov really has no alternative to a minority government, beyond taking the country to elections, which few parties in the current Parliament, including his own, would want. His ruling coalition has an approval rating that is somewhat less than scintillating, and its member parties are likely to be punished at any election held in the near future.
The most recent message from Boiko Borissov’s GERB-UDF coalition is that it wants elections, as does the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, as does Parliament’s smallest party, the pro-Kremlin Vuzhrazhdane.
None of those would be likely to want any kind of formal deal with the ruling coalition, and for the ruling coalition in turn, co-operation with those any of three groups would send a politically unpalatable signal. First, because WCC nailed its colours to the mast last year on not working with “parties of the establishment” such as GERB and the MRF, while Vuzhrazhdane has platforms so vile as to run counter to any pro-Western orientation.
Procedurally, the four Cabinet ministers from Trifonov’s party must now tender their resignations to Prime Minister Petkov, who, provided he accepts them (it is somewhat unlikely that he would not), must table them for a vote in Parliament.
Should a Petkov minority government fall, for instance in a vote of no confidence to which it would be vulnerable, the steps should now be very familiar to even the most lax student of recent Bulgarian political history.
President Roumen Radev would be obliged to offer a mandate to WCC, as the largest group in the National Assembly, to seek to form a government. Should that fail, a second mandate goes to the second-largest group, GERB-UDF. Should that fail, Radev has a free hand to offer a mandate to any group of his choice.
If all three stages fail, Radev would have to dissolve the National Assembly, appoint a caretaker government, and name a date for elections two months hence from the dissolution of the National Assembly. Unofficial calculations would place that early parliament election some time in September.
(Photo of Petkov: government.bg)
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