Talks on new Bulgarian government fail, early elections to follow

Talks on new Bulgarian government fail, early elections to follow
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia December 20, 2016

Bulgaria is heading for early elections in spring 2017 after talks on the formation of a new government within the current parliament failed. 

The current situation is not new for Bulgaria, as there have been three government resignations and two caretaker governments since March 2013. On December 2, Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings both affirmed their ratings on Bulgaria with stable outlooks, although both pointed to policy uncertainty following the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s government.

Early elections were already seen as the most likely outcome after on November 14, Borissov submitted the resignation of the government to the parliament. The move came after the second round of the presidential election was won by former air force commander General Rumen Radev, who was supported by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The parliament accepted the cabinet's resignation on November 16.

In December, outgoing President Rossen Plevneliev gave mandates to form a new government to the ruling centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and the BSP, the first and second largest parties in the parliament, but both returned the mandates immediately.

On December 13, Plevneliev gave the last possible mandate to the Reformist Bloc, the junior partner in the outgoing ruling coalition. The bloc accepted the mandate and has tried to muster parliamentary support for a new government since then.

However, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, chairman of GERB’s parliamentary group, said on December 20 that they were unable to reach agreement on a new government within the current parliament, Dnevnik daily reported. He commented that there have been very intensive negotiations over four or five days, but they did not manage to overcome certain differences. Tsvetanov added that the country is now heading to early parliamentary elections in line with the respective constitutional procedures.

“There are certain differences with colleagues from [the Reformist Bloc] and [Patriotic Front] on which we couldn't reach a consensus. Since we're not in a position in the 43th National Assembly to unite around the implementation of certain sectoral policies, we will comply with public expectations for early parliamentary elections,” Tsvetanov wrote on his Facebook page

The patriotic parties also participated in the talks and their representative Valeri Simeonov (co-chairman of the Patriotic Front) said that a maximum effort had been made and there had been “fellowship and goodwill”.

GERB has 84 lawmakers in the 240-seat parliament, and the Reformist Bloc has 22. The Patriotic Front and opposition Ataka (the third patriotic party) have 17 and 11 MPs, respectively. The Patriotic Front was not part of the outgoing government, but usually supported it in the parliament.

Reformist Bloc co-chairperson Nayden Zelenogorski also admitted that they failed to reach an agreement, but added he hopes they will cooperate again in the next parliament. The bloc will return the mandate to Plevneliev on December 21.

Meanwhile, the BSP demanded that Plevneliev appoint a caretaker government. Party leader Korneliya Ninova also said that they continue to insist on scheduling the early elections for March 26. The date will be set by Radev after he takes office on January 22.

While the BSP favours the quick formation of a caretaker government by Plevneliev, it is likely that such a government will be replaced by another caretaker government, to be appointed by Radev after he takes office. At the same time, Ninova also said that BSP will not propose ministers for a caretaker government, but for a regular one after it wins the parliamentary elections.

Another possibility is that the outgoing government will operate until January 22, Dnevnik reported previously.

The outcome of the election is hard to predict, since the composition of the next parliament will depend heavily on whether the current one will introduce a majority electoral system for MPs. Electoral reforms were the subject of a referendum held at the same time as the presidential election in November. While the results are not binding on MPs since turnout was too low, an overwhelming majority of those who did vote were in favour of the reforms. 

If the current proportional system is kept, the parliament is likely to be fragmented again and there will be a need for a coalition with the accompanying instability.

Radev’s victory was impressive and ends a long sequence of election victories for GERB. However, it can be argued that the latter could have managed its presidential campaign better, by not delaying its nomination until October and possibly choosing a more popular candidate.

A couple of hours after the decision was made, Borissov appeared to reflect upon and defend his party’s record in office, citing the construction and rehabilitation of roads within Bulgaria. “People centuries before us have judged that wherever there are roads, business, there is growth,” he commented on Facebook. “So don’t … talk about me like I'm gone.”