The Bulgarian government of Prime Minister Kiril Petkov collapsed in a no-confidence vote in parliament, throwing the European Union country into political turmoil during the war in Ukraine and surging inflation.
Opposition lawmakers toppled the government – which took power six months ago – on a 123-116 vote after the ruling coalition lost its majority over disputes on budget spending and whether Bulgaria should unlock North Macedonia’s EU accession.
Petkov, a 42-year-old Harvard graduate who has pledged to combat corruption, has taken a strong pro-European and pro-NATO position since Russia invaded Ukraine, an unusual stance for a country with a traditionally friendly attitude toward Moscow. Analysts predict a new government would bring a more neutral policy toward Russia.
“This vote is only one small step in a very long way,” Petkov said following the vote. “What they fail to understand is that this is not the way to win the Bulgarian people.”
The country now faces possibly its fourth general election since April 2021, putting at risk millions of euros from EU recovery funds and its plans to adopt the euro in 2024.
The gridlock may also hinder Bulgaria’s efforts to secure stable natural gas inflows after Moscow cut gas deliveries to the country, which is almost completely reliant on Russian gas, over Sofia’s refusal to pay in roubles.
Petkov has rejected any coalition talks with opposition parties in the chamber but will seek defections from lawmakers in the parliament to garner enough support for a new government and avoid early elections.
President Rumen Radev is required to call early elections within two months and appoint a caretaker administration should Petkov fail to cobble together a majority for a new cabinet and if two other parties in parliament cannot form a government.
Thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets on Wednesday in a demonstration of support for Petkov’s drive for reforms – which now looks doomed.
The gridlock may also hinder Bulgaria’s efforts to find stable natural gas supplies after Moscow cut gas deliveries to the Balkan country – almost completely reliant on Russian gas – over Sofia’s refusal to pay in roubles.
Speaking during a debate on the no-confidence motion in the legislature on Tuesday, Petkov appealed to lawmakers to support his cabinet amid a war in Ukraine and surging inflation.
“This government will not allow stealing from Bulgarian taxpayers,” Petkov said. “You have to decide – you have a genuine chance to push the country into political crisis in times of war.”
Petkov sacked his defence minister in February for refusing to call the Russian invasion of Ukraine “war”, backed EU sanctions against Moscow, and agreed to repair Ukraine’s heavy military machinery while stopping short of sending arms to Kyiv.
Former coalition partner ITN left the government after accusing Petkov of disregarding the country’s interests and bowing to EU and NATO pressures by pushing to lift Bulgaria’s veto on North Macedonia’s EU accession talks.
Petkov has argued any decision on the veto would be put to vote in parliament and accused the leadership of populist ITN party of deliberately hindering the cabinet’s anti-graft agenda.
Six ITN deputies have so far defected and pledged to support Petkov and his drive to tackle corruption, but the government still stands six votes shy of the 121 absolute majority.
Analysts see a new round of turbulence for months ahead.
“Early elections are very much on the table,” said Dobromir Zhivkov, a political analyst with Market Links pollster.
The motion against the ruling coalition was proposed by the opposition GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
Annual inflation surged to 15.6 percent, a 24-year high, in May. Finance Minister Assen Vassilev said the rise was mainly caused by high energy and food prices, driven by the war in Ukraine.