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July 21, 2020

BULGARIA: Continued protests heighten the probability of snap general poll

BY Andrius Tursa

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The ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) is expected to survive the vote of no confidence later today, 21 July. The ruling party could announce a major cabinet reshuffle to appease public discontent. However, the probability of snap polls is rising amid the continuing, largest anti-government protests since 2013.

The motion of no confidence – initiated by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) over the government’s alleged failure to tackle corruption – is unlikely to succeed as the GERB-led coalition holds 115 mandates in the 240-seat parliament and the right-wing Volya (Will) party with 12 mandates is expected to abstain. The constitution bars holding another motion of no confidence on the same subject for a period of six months.

Even if the motion is rejected, the political situation will remain unstable amid persisting protests calling for the resignation of the chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev and the cabinet led by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov (GERB). Borissov’s attempt to wait-out the protests – hoping that public discontent will dissipate with time – is not working and the demonstrations have now spread to multiple cities across the country. The recent announcement to dismiss three influential cabinet ministers – allegedly linked with the influential oligarch Delyan Peevski and the Movement of the Rights and Freedoms – has also failed to alleviate public tensions.

The government is expected to reveal its next moves after the no confidence vote. One option could be a more radical cabinet reshuffle, but protests will likely continue if Borissov remains in his post. Another option could be Borissov’s resignation, as in the 2013 protests. In such case, the constitution obliges the president to give a mandate to the largest parliamentary group (the ruling GERB) to form a new government. As a result, GERB would get a chance to form an entirely new cabinet without Borissov until the regular parliamentary election in early spring 2021. However, it is unclear whether Borissov would be willing to step down voluntarily and whether such a cabinet would win support from an absolute majority of deputies in parliament.

Otherwise, an early general election would become the most likely scenario. On the one hand, this would signal a political defeat for the ruling GERB and make it vulnerable to potential attacks from opponents, especially as early election would be organized by a caretaker cabinet appointed by President Rumen Radev (associated with the BSP). On the other hand, Borissov might be tempted to go to the polls early, as his key opponents are largely unprepared for this and the economic situation is expected to deteriorate in the coming months. Such a scenario would become more likely if protests do not abate.

Aside from political pressure, widespread demonstrations pose a risk of steeper rise in new Covid-19 infections, especially considering relaxed public attitudes toward sanitary measures and their weak enforcement. However, tight restrictions on economic and public activities seem unlikely as popular support for such measures is low

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