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Coalition talks stall as Bulgarian opposition receives mandate

Coalition talks stall as Bulgarian opposition receives mandate

The “We Continue the Change” WCC party has received a government-forming mandate from  President Rumen Radev. 

A week ago, the reformist party and ex-PM Boyko Borissov’s GERB hatched an unexpected deal to form an 18-month cabinet, first headed by the WCC’s Nickolay Denkov for nine months and then by GERB’s Mariya Gabriel.

The format was agreed as a way for Bulgaria to exit a prolonged political stalemate and a two-year election cycle.

In another twist, however, on Monday, negotiations between WCC and GERB stalled after an audio from a WCC members meeting was leaked on May 26 by Radostin Vassilev, an MP who a year ago joined WCC after leaving “There’s Such a People”.

At the time, he was Sports Minister in Kiril Petkov’s short-lived 2021-2022 cabinet. Now Vassilev has turned his back on his current party, too. 

On Monday, he said he leaked the recordings because WCC co-leaders Petkov and Assen Vassilev were “shamefully” undermining Bulgaria’s independence by collaborating with “foreign embassies”. He denounced this activity by his former party as a “threat to national security”. Vassilev said that he had recorded the Zoom meeting from May 21 on his “son’s iPad”. 

However, there is little actual substance in the leaked footage.

In the four-hour recording, the WCC leaders refer to Borissov as collaborating with them only out of “fear” of potential actions by President Radev and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev – who recently abandoned his longtime support for Borissov. 

Petkov refers to GERB  as “the big evil” and is ironic about their proposed format of shared governance: “We can make ourselves look a bit foolish on TV and talk some nonsense about all of this being a ‘gentlemen’s agreement.’”

Petkov discloses that he had conversations with the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen on the chances of Bulgaria entering the Schengen zone with such a cabinet, to which he had received a positive answer but also doubts that Bulgaria will enter the eurozone soon. 

In the recording, Vassilev talks about changes in the national security service, which had been agreed upon with “the Embassy”, widely speculated to be referring to the US one. 

Petkov and Vassilev also point to the President having a bigger scheme that Bulgaria will have an entirely pro-Russian government in two years’ time. 

In their first briefing after the leak, Petkov stated that there might be coordination between the President and Vassilev to damage the reputation of the WCC and its ally Democratic Bulgaria.

On Monday, party members said consultations with NATO and the EU about the profiles of the people who will lead Bulgaria’s national security are only routine. “I stand behind every word of mine heard in the recording,” said Vassilev.

The WCC rose from President’s 2021 interim cabinet, but was at odds with the him after Russia’s invasion in Ukraine and over Petkov’s efforts to improve relations with North Macedonia.

Radev has been taking a largely pro-Kremlin position and forming a growing distance from Petkov and Vassilev ever since. 

The claim that the WCC is undermining Bulgaria’s sovereignty by its pro-Western position has been a key criticism of President Radev, of former coalition partners in the Bulgarian Socialist Party and “There’s Such a People” – which helped oust Petkov’s cabinet by exiting the coalition and voting along with GERB – as well as the another main pro-Russia party – Revival. 

On Monday, a small-scale pro-Russian protest against alleged US influence in local politics was staged in front of the Presidency. 

Source: Balkan Insight