Bulgaria heading towards new snap election as talks on government rotation fail

Bulgaria heading towards new snap election as talks on government rotation fail
Gerb's Mariya Gabriel has given CC-DB until noon on March 18 to agree to its terms and form a new government. / Gerb
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia March 18, 2024

Bulgaria is heading towards its sixth snap general election in a row, after Gerb decided to end negotiations on the government’s rotation with its partner, Change Continues-Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB).

Nine months ago, Gerb and CC-DB – until then fierce opponents – decided to set aside their differences and back a jointly formed government, comprising mainly non-political experts, which was supposed to be headed in the first nine months by CC-DB’s Nikolai Denkov and then for another nine months by Gerb’s Mariya Gabriel. The two would then switch their positions and, if all was going well, another rotation would have been agreed.

On March 5, Denkov announced the resignation of the government, which was approved by the parliament the next day. Immediately after that, the two formations launched talks on an agreement for the next nine months. Sources close to the negotiations indicated that all differences were resolved and the agreement would be signed, paving the way for the rotation.

However, on the evening of March 17, Gabriel told a press briefing that the negotiations had failed and unless CC-DB accepts Gerb’s terms by noon on March 18, when President Rumen Radev will give her the mandate for the new government, she will immediately return it unfulfilled and a snap election will follow.

Gabriel accused CC-DB of rejecting all proposals made by Gerb. “We do not have disagreement regarding the [appointment of heads of] regulators, the judicial reform and the fight against corruption. The differences are fundamental regarding the acceptance of Gerb as equal partner,” Gabriel said at the press briefing. 

Denitsa Sacheva of Gerb, also a member of the negotiation team, added that Gerb cannot be used as a rubber stamp for reforms.

Gabriel also said she sees no chance of progress in negotiations over the next seven days – the deadline that Gerb would have after being handed the mandate to form a government. 

“There is no option in which we wait for another seven days to negotiate. I think we had plenty of time for negotiations and details. There is no way for me to participate in negotiations with the second mandate. If what has been said was sincere, I do not think we need more days to finalise what we want,” Gabriel said.

However, CC-DB claims that Gerb has one demand that the coalition considers unacceptable – to delay signing the agreement on the government's reform programme and on how joint decisions will be taken.

At a separate press conference, the leaders of CC-DB said that all details were cleared during the negotiations and that the coalition was ready to accept Gerb’s demand for the replacement of six current ministers with members of its party.

Outgoing Finance Minister Assen Vassilev, co-leader of CC, said that earlier during the afternoon it became clear that Gerb wants to postpone signing the agreement indefinitely.

“I do not understand why the signing of this agreement is now being questioned. Everything was going very well and we are even ready to publish it,” Hristo Ivanov, co-leader of DB, said.

Kiril Petkov, co-leader of CC, called on Gabriel to resume talks in the morning and said he relies on her to complete the agreement and not to throw the country into crisis.

Ivanov indicated that the controversial issue in the agreement was the mechanism to nominate heads of state regulators. 

Petkov said that nothing was lost as Gerb and CC-DB have seven more days, calling on Gerb’s leader Boyko Borissov, who did not participate in the negotiations, to complete the agreement instead of pushing the country into another crisis.

Bulgaria previously held five general elections in two years with just two of them producing regular governments. This has delayed major reforms and threw the country in its deepest political crisis over the past 20 years.