Bulgaria’s ruling coalition was seriously shaken and came close to collapse following the resignation of three ministers as Valeri Simeonov, one of the leaders of the junior coalition partner, strongly objected to Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s decision to order the ministers to step down, and threatened to quit.
This is not the first time Simeonov has seemed unhappy with his partners, but this time he gave a final ultimatum to Borissov to change the way the coalition is working and start making decisions more transparently.
On August 31, Borissov demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Valentin Radev, Transport Minister Ivaylo Moskovski and Regional Development Minister Nikolay Nankov over their political responsibility for a bus crash that killed 17 people and left many more wounded six days earlier.
There are suspicions that the deadly accident could have been caused by defects in the road construction; it was built by Trace Svoge, which is majority-owned by local construction company Trace Group Hold.
All the ministers told to resign are from the quota of Borissov’s GERB party. In a statement over the weekend Simeonov said that his party, the far-right National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), strongly objects to Borissov’s move as it was not coordinated with his coalition partners.
“The frenetic replacement of executives liquidates the statehood and hits badly the possibility for execution of the coalition programme,” Simeonov said in a statement.
A day later, on September 3, he decided to give a last chance to the coalition following a meeting of the United Patriots, the far-right junior coalition partner, which, apart from NFSB, comprises the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO) and Ataka.
The United Patriots are very shaky and Simeonov has already said that most likely the rightwing union will not survive until the next election.
As well as his criticisms of the resignations, Simeonov is also involved in a long-running and acrimonious dispute with Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova of GERB over various buildings at seaside resorts that Simeonov claims were built illegally. Relations have deteriorated to such an extent that Simeonov referred Angelkova to the prosecution over the issue, although prosecutors refused to investigate his fellow cabinet minister.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev also criticised Borissov’s move, calling it a sign of weakness.
“The resignations are no more a solution but an escape from responsibility. The problem in the state is not personal but a systematic. Authoritarianism is not the future of Bulgaria,” Radev said in a statement on September 3.
There has been speculation Bulgaria could have to hold early elections, but Radev added that a snap poll “will not give a new perspective”.
To add to the already serious crisis, a poll carried out by Alpha Research showed that although nearly two-thirds of Bulgarians approve of the resignations, they have not increased the very low support for the government. While 19% of those who approve the resignations say the move lowered their support for the government and 12% say they would trust Borissov’s cabinet more after this move, the majority of people said this has not affected their perception in any way. The latter was seen as a signal that the replacement of ministers as a tool used by Borissov is not working in his favour anymore. More than 50% of respondents also demanded to see those responsible for the bus crash punished.