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An end to Bulgaria’s political instability is closer than ever

Political opponents GERB/United Democratic Forces and We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria gave President Rumen Radev the names of ministers for their proposed joint cabinet on Monday and will now seek approval from parliamentarians.

The move is likely to bring an end to two years of political turmoil which has seen five parliamentary elections held in Bulgaria.

The two blocs will take office with a cabinet that will govern for 18 months, led for the first nine months governed by We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria with Nickolay Denkov as prime minister and for the second 9 months by GERB/United Democratic Forces, with Denkov resigning and Mariya Gabriel stepping in as premier.

“After five elections, we are trying to form a government so that we do the work: it’s all about the numerous reforms and bills that the Ministerial Council has to draft out and bring to parliament after this big legislative delay,” said Denkov, who was previously education minister in We Continue the Change’s 2021-2022 coalition government.

The ministerial list of the Denkov-Gabriel cabinet includes We Continue the Change co-leader Assen Vassilev returning as minister of finance and Todor Tagarev, an outspoken military expert on Russian meddling in Bulgarian politics, as minister of defence. He previously held the same post in 2013.

Atanas Slavov from We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria will head the Ministry of Justice, probably as a guarantee that judicial reform – a long-sought ambition of We Continue the Change and Democratic Bulgaria – will be carried out.

The unlikely union is beneficial for both sides. It is good news for veteran GERB leader and former premier Boyko Borissov, who in the last two years has not been able to capitalise on his election victories because GERB was isolated in parliament, while Kiril Petkov’s We Continue the Change gets a comeback after the ousting of his 2021-22 reformist coalition, ironically triggered by GERB.

The development also ushers in a curious situation in which GERB/United Democratic Forces and We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria are now on the same side, united by a common enemy: President Radev, who enjoyed increased power in the last two years after governing de facto through a series of interim cabinets. Radev has openly criticised the plans for the new joint government.

Last week, two protests against the president drew thousands to the streets of Sofia to call for his impeachment because of his pro-Kremlin leanings and efforts to undermine the coalition negotiations.

If the cabinet gets the expected approval by the parliament – only the pro-Kremlin parties Bulgarian Socialist Party and Revival are expected to vote against, while There’s Such a People has not decided what to do – this will see the end of Bulgaria’s political turmoil.

However, the experimental joint cabinet has already been causing internal divisions in the two camps.

“Not everyone is happy, that’s a fact. It’s a situation that’s hard to accept,” GERB member Tomislav Donchev told local media on Sunday.

“Very soon we will know whether everyone will support the government,” he added.

The last three years have seen numerous twists and turns: from being a major obstacle to reforms, GERB is now demonstrating its willingness to bring in changes, while President Radev has turned from an ally of GERB’s opposition to an opponent.

After major anti-establishment protests in 2020, GERB won the inconclusive April 2021 elections but increasing opposition to Borissov led to failure of coalition talks.

This was followed by the election victory of There’s Such a People and then the election victory of We Continue The Change by the end of the same year.

After the ousting of Petkov’s cabinet in mid-2022, GERB found its way back to the top in the subsequent elections but had limited coalition options.

This led to Borissov rethinking his strategy and siding with the opposition on several points, including plans for judicial reform which would see the ousting of a key GERB partner: Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who is now fighting for his survival and has started to probe Borissov over corruption allegations.

Source: Balkan Insight