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Serbia has launched a controversial investigation into the financing of civil society organizations critical of the government. In Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is seeking appease continuing public discontent by reshuffling the government and rolling out new economic support measures. Despite the opposition Social Democratic Party’s calls for a vote of no confidence in Romanian government led by Ludovic Orban, such a motion is unlikely in the near term. Meanwhile, relatively good handling of the pandemic boosted the chances of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVZS) to lead the next coalition government after the October election.
Widespread protests demanding the resignation of the Borisov (GERB) government have been continuing for 27 straight days. Protest momentum remains strong and demonstrators are blocking major intersections in Sofia and Varna. To appease public tensions, Borisov replaced four cabinet ministers last week and announced new economic support measures, including additional payments to vulnerable social groups, VAT reduction on all tourism services as well as increased funding for healthcare and the police. However, the latest opinion polls show that public support for the ruling party has declined from 34% in early June to around 27% in late July. Borisov is expected to remain in office for now, hoping that protests will dissipate during the vacation period in August.
According to Eurostat, the country’s GDP contracted by 5.1% in the second quarter, which is a much better result compared with the estimated 11.9% drop in the EU27. Positive economic data and relatively good handling of the pandemic has boosted the popularity of the ruling LVZS ahead of the 11 October parliamentary election. While the LVZS polls largely on par with opposition center-right Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, it is better positioned to partner with smaller parties that are expected to enter parliament. This suggests that the LVZS has emerged as the favorite to form the next coalition government after the October vote. However, heated political campaigning after the summer break and resurging Covid-19 cases could still reshuffle the deck.
The number of daily Covid-19 cases and deaths have reached new highs during the past week. As a result, the capital Bucharest and at least 20 (out of 41) other counties have re-imposed a requirement to wear face masks in crowded public spaces and restricted operating hours of restaurants and bars. The government has also announced a new RON 2.5bn (EUR 516mn) package of labor market support measures (including the “Kurzarbeit” scheme), even though the country’s unemployment rate (5.2% in June) remains among the lowest in the EU. Despite the worsening epidemiological situation, the ruling center-right National Liberty Party (PNL) maintains the lead in the polls against its key rival center-left Social Democratic Party (PSD) ahead of the local elections scheduled for 27 September and the parliamentary vote expected in November/December. The PNL and two other center-right parties (Save Romania Union and PLUS) have agreed to field joint candidates in Bucharest (the city and its six districts), which signals their potential cooperation after the general election as well.
Meanwhile, the PSD interim leader Marcel Ciolacu’s threats to call a motion of no confidence in the Ludovic Orban (PNL) cabinet are geared towards securing greater support of party members in the upcoming PSD leader election on 22 August. Such a motion appears unlikely for now, as PRO Romania and The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania – whose support is crucial to pass the motion – are reluctant to support the initiative, as this could push the country into another political crisis amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The finance ministry launched a controversial investigation into 37 NGOs and 20 individuals on the grounds of money laundering and terrorism financing. While the inquiry is not public, information leaks in local media show that the investigation targets exclusively civil society organizations working in the fields of transparency, democracy, and human rights. The move – which has already triggered criticism from the US and various international organizations – suggests that the ruling Serbia Progressive Party might be seeking to intimidate, if not punish, the most vocal government critics after winning a resounding victory in the July parliamentary elections and overcoming widespread anti-government protests preceding the poll.