There was a rapturous welcome from a crowd of thousands on June 20 as Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, Cabinet ministers and political allies addressed a mass rally in capital city Sofia at the start of a week in which the fate of his government will be determined.
The June 20 pro-government rally was one of three planned over consecutive days up to Wednesday, and took place on the eve of debate in Parliament on a motion of no confidence in Petkov’s government.
At stake is whether Petkov’s reformist government, in office for the past six months, will be ousted by a no-confidence vote later this week, or whether it can garner sufficient support from defectors from a parliamentary group that broke away from the ruling coalition. The Petkov camp has been seeking to persuade MPs from that group to put country above party.
The rally merged two events – a Justice for All protest themed “March for European Bulgaria – in defence of parliamentarism and democracy”, held outside the Presidency building, and the pro-government gathering in front of Parliament.
In a succession of speeches, including by Nikola Minchev – ousted as Speaker last week at the hands of the anti-government coalition in Parliament, whose numbers were bolstered by Slavi Trifonov’s populist ITN party – the gathering was told that, in effect, the current battle for the survival of the government was one against organised crime, corruption and behind-the-scenes dealings to control the political stage.
After the Justice for All march arrived to join the throng outside Parliament, Petkov emerged, greeting supporters, speaking to journalists, and then climbing the plinth of the Tsar Liberator Monument to address the crowd.
“No matter what happens with the vote of no confidence, no matter what happens in the week in which we receive the first mandate (to seek to form a government, if his falls), the truth is that you are the guarantor that our beloved homeland will not fall into uncertainty,” Petkov told the crowd.
Of the vote of no confidence, he said: “We are constantly speaking to different MPs, this is a matter of fear and responsibility, everyone has to make a decision, and I hope that many people will decide at the last minute that it is actually worth taking that step, which seems scary at the moment”.
Currently, public information is that those who would vote against the Petkov government number 125, while those who would vote to keep the government in office add up to 115 – leaving Petkov with a shortfall of six to make up.
“They tried for several months — using different methods, through different channels , but all they understood was that we would not deviate from our principles. This was the first reason that drove them crazy, that for the first time in Bulgaria we have people who are not ready to negotiate away their own principles,” Petkov said.
“The first step is to clear the country of the mafia, and the second is to build real institutions so that the Prime Minister does not depend on a group of people, but on an institutional stability where the law is obeyed. That is the long game, and we can only achieve it together,” he said.
“The only thing I offer is a cause. The cause is to have a normal, European Bulgaria,” Petkov said.
The rally was told that those being sought to be recruited to vote with the government were being subjected to constant intimidation and threats, including to their lives.
From the plinth, Cabinet ministers Daniel Lorer and Nikolai Subev addressed the crowd, as did Minchev, as well as Sports Minister Radostin Vassilev, who quit ITN after Trifonov announced that the party was leaving the ruling coalition.
“They can kill us, but they can’t stop us,” Vassilev said.
Sofia municipality said on June 20 that it had received 11 requests for demonstrations in the period between Monday and Wednesday.
Apart from the events openly for or against the Petkov government, these include various ultra-nationalist events or ones in the name of hitherto unheard-of NGOs in the name of, for instance, high fuel prices.
On June 21, on the south side of the Parliament building, a protest is scheduled against the Petkov government, while on the north side, there is to be one in support of the Petkov government.
June 22 is to see a protest on the south side of the Parliament in support of the Petkov government, and on the north side, one against it.
At the June 20 rally, Petkov urged the crowd to return on Tuesday and Wednesday, and said that he had been assured by Interior Minister Boiko Rashkov that the police presence would be sufficiently strong to ensure security.
(All photos: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)
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