Bulgaria’s Parliament rejects GERB-UDF’s proposed PM

Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted on July 3 against GERB-UDF nominee Rossen Zhelyazkov becoming Prime Minister, thus defeating the first of three mandates to try to get a government elected.

The vote, held after three and a half hours of acrimonious debate, was 98 in favour of Zhelyazkov, 138 against, with two abstentions. With the nomination of Zhelyazkov defeated, subsequent votes on the structure and line-up of the proposed cabinet fell away.

Of the 50th National Assembly’s seven groups, GERB-UDF and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) spoke in favour of the proposed Zheyazkov government. However, in the actual vote, of the MRF’s 45 MPs, 30 voted in favour, 14 against and one abstained.

The votes against Zhelyazkov came from We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria (WCC-DB), Vuzrazhdane, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), ITN and Velichie.

The abstentions came from two out of three independent MPs in the 240-seat House.

The debate unfolded with President Roumen Radev, newly-elected Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Daniil and foreign diplomats watching from the galleries, with members of the Glavchev caretaker cabinet in the House.

The failure of the first mandate, which had been held by Boiko Borissov’s GERB-UDF as Parliament’s largest group, means that Radev must now hand the next mandate to the second-largest group, the MRF.

Should the second mandate fail, Radev has a free hand in deciding to which group to hand the third and final mandate. Should that mandate fail, Bulgaria will proceed to early parliamentary elections, which would be the seventh time in just more than three years that it elects a legislature.

At the start of the July 3 proceedings on the proposed government, Zheyazkov said that the cabinet line-up that he had proposed had the main task of restoring effective governance to overcome at least three deficits – in trust and legitimacy, setting goals and achieving them, and in law enforcement.

He said that on average, in the past three years, elections had been held in Bulgaria every six months.

“Society has already become apathetic and no longer trusts to give confidence. This leads to a lack of interest from the voters and voting only by the hard cores [of electorates],” Zhelyazkov said.

WCC-DB group leader, former prime minister Nikolai Denkov said that the group would vote against because the draft cabinet was one of “forget about the future”.

While Denkov spoke, Borissov left the House, saying: “I don’t listen to lies”.

Denkov held office as prime minister for nine months from June 2023 as a result of a deal between WCC-DB and GERB-UDF, informally backed by the MRF, but the June 2024 election resulted from the failure of negotiations between WCC-DB and GERB-UDF on a sequel government to have been headed by GERB’s Maria Gabriel.

Part of the July 3 debate consisted of vituperative exchanges between WCC-DB and GERB-UDF on their respective records in office.

The day also saw a partial lifting of the lid on the tensions within the MRF.

MRF parliamentary leader Delyan Peevski said that the party’s founder and honorary life president Ahmed Dogan had called on the parliamentary group to vote against the proposed government, but Peevski told reporters that he had decided to vote in line with the “will of the people” who wanted an elected government.

Earlier, Ramadan Atalay, an MRF MP in every Parliament since 1997, was ousted from the parliamentary group, in what was seen as among the latest moves by Peevski to wrest full control of the party. Atalay told bTV that Peevski and Dogan were at odds.

In the debate, the MRF’s Yordan Tsonev said that the party would work to get a government elected, with the first, second and third mandates. The MRF was willing to hold talks with every parliamentary group except Vuzrazhdane, he said.

Vuzrazhdane leader Kostadin Kostadinov, addressing himself to the GERB-UDF group, said: “There is not one of your voters who would support you becoming a crutch of the MRF, an accessory of Peevski and the MRF.

“There is none among you and if you form a government today, even if each of the political forces in Parliament keep their promises, your government will not pass today, but if it does happen, you will share the fate of the BSP,” Kostadinov said.

Hours into proceedings, Borissov proposed guillotining debate – although the rules of the National Assembly do not allow such a step.

Borissov thanked the MRF for its support, adding: “We have clearly said that we will not support a second mandate, we will not support a third mandate either, it is not logical for parties with six to seven per cent [of the vote] to dominate”.

“If you give the third mandate to Mr. Kostadinov, I think we will have a government, after everything we have heard in the hall so far,” Borissov said.

“We apologise, we ask for the forgiveness of the Bulgarian citizens, we will appear before them again… let’s wish to see each other after the elections, because I do not believe that anything will happen with the third mandate. Let’s stop the voting, let’s thank the caretaker cabinet and go campaigning, and ask for forgiveness,” he said.

The proposal was rejected and debate continued, including with smaller parties making their pleas to be handed the third mandate.

(Screenshot of Zhelyazkov via BNT’s live broadcast)

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