Boiko Borisov’s GERB party, which took the largest share of the vote in Bulgaria’s elections on October 5, has struck a coalition deal with the nationalist Patriotic Front. However, GERB still needs to bring at least one other party on board to form a majority in the new parliament.
After lengthy talks on October 16, GERB and the Patriotic Front coalition said they had agreed to work together in the new government. The PF also agreed to support Borisov as prime minister.
This gives GERB the 19 seats held by the Patriotic Front - comprising the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO) and the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB) - in addition to the 84 seats that it holds, meaning Borisov will need to find at least another 18 seats for a majority in the 240 seat national assembly.
“In terms of the political framework we managed to agree on all points,” GERB's Rumyana Buchvarova said after the talks, according to Novinite.
Striking the deal with the Patriotic Front was good news for GERB, which the previous day had failed to make headway in talks with the Reformist Bloc, the rightwing coalition considered to be its most likely ally in government.
Six hours of talks on October 15 ended with no agreement between the two parties, and the GERB delegation expressing frustration with the Reformists. Writing on his Facebook page after the talks, Borisov slammed the Reformist Bloc as “ill-prepared” and "an unstable coalition partner". "I am extremely dissatisfied with the Reformist Bloc's preparation for today’s consultations,” he wrote.
Since this is only the first round of talks, an agreement between the two may well be reached in later rounds, as the Reformists may be holding out for a stronger position with a GERB-led coalition government. However, there are differences in both policy and personality that will make this difficult.
"The natural ally for GERB is the Reform Bloc, which shares many points of their platform, but there is a very strong animosity between the parties’ leaders," says a report from the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW). "The Reform Bloc ... are traditionally reluctant to engage with Borisov, as he has taken over the centre-right electorate." Other areas of conflict include the South Stream gas pipeline project and the expansion of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant.
So far, GERB has reached out to all seven of the parties with parliament seats, though unsurprisingly talks with the second and third largest parties - the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and its former coalition partner the Movement For Rights and Freedoms (MRF) - ended without agreement.
The deal with the Patriotic Front confirms forecasts that, with the BSP and MRF out of the running, Borisov would have to search among Bulgaria’s far right and nationalist fringe parties to put together a coalition. Tim Ash of Standard Bank forecast after the vote that forming a new government would be “acutely difficult” for GERB, which faces “some unpalatable choices, including an alliance with nationalist parties which might strain relations with some of Bulgaria's Western allies.”
The Patriotic Front "seems willing to enter into a coalition, but its nationalistic rhetoric may raise tensions with Bulgaria’s neighbours and the EU," agrees OSW's report.
The October 5 elections were Bulgaria’s second early elections in under two years. The previous government under technocrat prime minister Plamen Oresharski was shaky from the beginning - the former communist BSP and the mainly ethnic Turkish MRF held exactly half the parliament seats, relying on the extreme nationalist Ataka party for support. The coalition finally disintegrated after a disastrous performance in the May European Parliament elections.
Hopes that the October 5 election would produce a more stable coalition were not high, as polls in the run up to the election were already forecasting a fragmented parliament, A GERB-led coalition with a substantial majority would enable the new government to make reforms, in particular to stimulate economic growth - on October 8 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut its 2014 growth forecast for Bulgaria from 1.6% to 1.4%, while also lowering its 2015 growth forecast.
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