Sergei Stanishev, leader of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, has called for snap elections in July. The Socialist-led coalition government is under increasing pressure to call early elections after a poor showing in the May European Parliament elections and the ongoing dispute over the planned South Stream gas pipeline.
A no-confidence motion - the fifth faced by Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski’s government - is due to be discussed in the Bulgarian parliament June 11, with a vote expected by the end of this week. The government may yet survive, as the opposition led by GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) which initiated the motion would need 121 votes to force the cabinet to resign.
However, Stanishev said June 10 that it would be better for the government to resign now and call early elections rather than cling onto power. "We cannot have the responsibility for the existence and actions of this government solely by ourselves," Stanishev told a televised press conference after an extraordinary session of the BSP leadership on June 10.
He added that it would be “fair” if the government resigns after the no-confidence vote. "BSP has never been afraid of elections, and unlike some others, holding on to power is not our fixed objective", Stanishev said, according to Novinite.
Whatever the outcome of the vote, it has already become clear that Oresharski’s government cannot survive until the end of its term, as it comes under fire from both the opposition and its junior coalition partner, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS).
The centre-right GERB party has already called for early elections, as the DPS, whose leader Lyutvi Mestan has backed away from the BSP over the Russian-led South Stream gas pipeline, which will traverse Bulgaria. Volen Siderov, leader of Ataka, which backed Oresharski’s government in previous no-confidence votes, added his voice to calls for the government to resign later. In an interview with Sega published on June 10, Siderov slammed Oresharski for bowing to US pressure to halt South Stream as well as the Belene nuclear power plant, another Bulgarian-Russian project. "He was given the chance to rule for too long. He failed to accomplish basic things which were expected of him and this is why he has to go immediately,” Siderov said, according to Novinite.
Shooting from all sides
Aside from the nationalist Ataka, politicians from across the political spectrum have criticised Oresharski’s handling of the South Stream issue, which has managed to create tensions with both the EU and Russia.
Oresharski said June 8 that Bulgaria had suspended construction of its section of South Stream at the European Commission’s request and would not resume work until the government gets the go-ahead from Brussels. “[T]he [South Stream] project will go forward only after we resolve all issues that Brussels has and agree on the project’s further implementation,” Oresharski said following a meeting with US senators in Sofia. “Depending on upcoming consultations with Brussels, we will decide the course of further work. I have ordered to stop construction until the procedure is agreed with Brussels.”
South Stream, which will transport Russian gas to the EU while bypassing Ukraine, is increasingly out of sync with EU policy, as European leaders have backed Kyiv in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of the Ukrainian province of Crimea. Bulgaria, which currently imports almost all of the gas it consumes from Gazprom, was dismayed by the EU order but chose to comply.
Another strike against Oresharski’s government concerns the allocation of contracts to build the Bulgarian section of the pipeline. Opposition leaders claim the €3.5bn project cost has been inflated, which has added to the demands for the government to resign.
The European Commission said June 3 that it had launched an infringement procedure against Bulgaria over its section of the South Stream pipeline, with a commission spokesperson citing a lack of transparency in the awarding of contracts for the work. “The Commission will... ensure that all energy infrastructure and projects in the European Union such as South Stream comply 100% with European rules on energy competition public procurements and so on,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said June 4. “We have just launched an infringement procedure against Bulgaria which shows that we mean business.”
The situation was further complicated by the choice of a consortium led by Stroytransgaz - a Russian company owned by Gennady Timchenko’s Volga Group and one of the companies subject to US sanctions - to build the Bulgarian section of the pipeline.
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev has already announced he will open talks with the leaders of Bulgaria’s main political parties in the hope of resolving the ongoing uncertainty. Speaking on Bulgarian National Radio, he said that while it was too early to talk of a appointing a caretaker government, the country is clearly heading for early elections this autumn.
However, Stanishev's call for elections to take place as early as July has already been dismissed by the opposition as unrealistic. More likely timing would be late September or early October, which is favoured by GERB, while the MRF wants elections in November or December.
Bulgaria now seems to be on track for its second government collapse in less than two years; the previous government of GERB under its leader Boiko Borisov failed in February 2013. Since then, Oresharski has only managed to survive four no-confidence votes with support from Ataka. It is also unclear whether a new parliament will make it possible to form a more stable coalition.
The May European Parliament elections were viewed as a litmus test for public opinion in EU countries with upcoming elections. In Bulgaria, GERB took the largest share of the vote, but if the 30.4% is repeated in a national election, this would be insufficient for the party to rule alone. GERB was followed by BSP with 18.5% and DPS at 14.1%. The new Bulgaria Without Censorship party, which took 10.6% of the vote in the European elections could also take seats in the next Bulgarian parliament.
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