Bulgaria’s political crisis: Outgoing PM in televised appeal to GERB-UDF

A few hours after Boiko Borissov’s GERB-UDF announced that it was “all over” for negotiations on a new government, outgoing Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov – of We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria – made a televised appeal for efforts towards a government to continue.

On the afternoon of March 24, GERB-UDF Prime Minister-designate Maria Gabriel told a news conference that she would on Monday write to Parliament to withdraw her candidacy.

Members of her negotiating team told the news conference that it was “all over” and the country was heading to early parliamentary elections.

GERB-UDF, at the Sunday afternoon news conference, in effect accused WCC-DB of moving the goalposts in negotiations on the line-up of a Cabinet.

As the largest parliamentary group, GERB-UDF is the holder of the first mandate to seek to form a government. In June 2023,WCC-DB and GERB-UDF voted Denkov into office as Prime Minister with Gabriel as Deputy PM, on the understanding that after nine months, Denkov and Gabriel would switch roles.

However, negotiations on what is known as the “rotation” between Denkov and Gabriel have been confounded by high tensions, ultimatums, grandstanding and insults.

The two coalitions – GERB-UDF and WCC-DB – have wrangled over the timeline for reform of the security services, the country’s regulators, and the line-up of a Cabinet. Negotiations have been on-again, off-again, unstructured and in large measure and unhelpfully conducted through the media.

In his televised address on Sunday evening, Denkov said: “I appeal to GERB-UDF, instead of throwing the country into chaos, let them keep their word, sign the agreement and vote for a government with Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Maria Gabriel, without changing the composition of the Cabinet”.

“In order to fulfill our long-term tasks, nine months ago we agreed with GERB-UDF that the government will have a term of 18 months, and in the middle of the period the prime ministers will rotate, and the ministers will rotate only by mutual agreement,” Denkov said.

“I kept my promise and on March 6, my resignation was accepted. The negotiations for the composition of the Cabinet showed that we do not have a mutual agreement to change ministers,” he said.

“According to our arrangement, only Ms. Gabriel and I should change our positions. In parallel, during the negotiations we worked out an agreement on the reform of the judicial system, regulators and services. It was published and we are ready to sign it.

“Colleagues from GERB-UDF, it’s your decision, will you back off from the word given nine months ago, will if you abandon the reform agreement, will you throw the country back into another cycle of elections. The only thing that is expected of you today is to keep your word and fulfill your duty to the people and to Bulgaria,” Denkov said.

Should the negotiations between WCC-DB and GERB-UDF not be revived – again – the first-mandate stage will fail.

That means a second-mandate stage, with that mandate going to WCC-DB, as Parliament’s second-largest group.

Gabriel reiterated on the afternoon of March 24 that GERB-UDF would not countenance a government nominated on the basis of the second mandate. GERB-UDF would not take part in negotiations on a government to be nominated with the second mandate, she said.

In line with the constitution, current head of state President Roumen Radev has a free hand to choose to which parliamentary group to hand a third and final mandate to seek to form a government.

Parliament’s three smallest groups – pro-Kremlin Vuzrazhdane and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and populist ITN, which has a small clutch of MPs and is headed in absentia by a cable television presenter, all have said that they want Bulgaria to go to early parliamentary elections.

On March 24, Delyan Peevski – the Magnitski-sanctioned co-leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – said that Bulgaria needed rapid early elections “to continue working for the people and Bulgaria to have a clear Euro-Atlantic majority and government”.

Peevski said that a government with the second mandate was impossible without GERB-UDF and if the MRF was offered the third mandate, it would return it “because we do not accept seeking a majority with anti-Nato and anti-European parties like Vuzrazhdane, with which we are ideologically and morally incompatible.”

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