The mounting suspicions of corruption will likely hurt the center-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) in the July elections. Latvia’s Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins went ahead with the anticipated cabinet reshuffle, while the Czech government is likely to survive the motion of no confidence later today. Finally, the creeping Covid-19 cases in Russia underscore the country’s vulnerability to new waves of the pandemic due to sluggish vaccination.
Yesterday, 2 June, the US Department of Treasury imposed asset freezes on three influential Bulgarian oligarchs – Vassil Bojkov, Delyan Peevski and Ilko Zhelyazkov – as well as 64 entities linked for engagement in corruption. In parallel, the US department of State imposed entry bans on five individuals, including their family members, on the same grounds. The US action coincides with multiple inquiries launched by the current caretaker cabinet into the Boyko Borisov government’s actions while in power, including the alleged wiretapping of opposition deputies and low-interest loans provided by the state-owned development bank to companies associated with the government members. The mounting suspicions of corruption will likely weaken the center-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) ahead of the parliamentary election scheduled for 11 July. While GERB still leads in opinion polls, its advantage over the populist There is Such People (ITN) party has been eroding in recent weeks. The corruption-focused investigations – which are likely to continue until the vote – could also boost Democratic Bulgaria! or Stand Up! Thugs Out! electoral coalitions, both of which are potential coalition partners of ITN.
The minority coalition government led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens, ANO) is likely to survive the vote of no confidence in parliament today, 3 June. The outcome of the vote hinges on the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), which, following protracted internal discussions, decided not to support the motion, according to its leader Vojtech Filip. If the motion fails, the Babis cabinet will be set to complete its term in office until the October general election. Yet even if the motion were to succeed, President Milos Zeman could still keep Babis in office by not proposing a new head of the government, for which there is no constitutional deadline. As a result, the opposition-initiated vote is mostly driven by pre-electoral considerations.
On 2 June, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins (New Unity, JV) announced that the populist Who Owns the State? (KPV LV) party was leaving the governing coalition, thereby confirming the anticipated cabinet reshuffle. The KPV LV’s cabinet portfolios have been divided among the remaining coalition partners, with the liberal Development/For! party taking over the ministry of interior, the center-right New Conservative Party (JKP) getting the ministry of welfare, and the right-wing National Alliance (NA) taking control of the economy portfolio. The four governing coalition parties together hold 48 mandates in the 100-seat parliament – three seats short of a majority – but could expect informal support from several unaffiliated deputies. The new interior and economy ministers were approved by 56 and 54 votes respectively, which is a good indication of the level of support Karin’s reshuffled cabinet has in parliament. Until the autumn 2022 general elections, the governing coalition aims to focus on the post-pandemic recovery and the “smart re-industrialization” policy aimed at boosting exports. However, the intensifying pre-election campaigning could once again destabilize the coalition government.
In contrast to the swiftly improving epidemiological situation in Europe, the seven-day rolling average of new Covid-19 infections in Russia has crept up to the highest level since March. While Russian authorities assess the situation as stable, the uptick in infections highlights Russia’s vulnerability to new waves of the pandemic due to sluggish vaccination. Since the official start of the country’s vaccination campaign in early December, only 12% of the country’s population has received a first dose of the vaccine and an estimated 9% have been fully vaccinated. At current pace, the targeted 69mn residents (60% of adult population) would be fully immunized by summer 2022. Despite the government’s efforts to promote domestic vaccines, recent polls suggest that more than 60% of residents are unwilling to get vaccinated with Sputnik V, a figure which has remained stable since the beginning of the year. As a result, Russian authorities are looking for ways to accelerate the vaccination campaign, with the topic of compulsory vaccination gaining traction in political debates. Although President Vladimir Putin has ruled out such an option, the government is already considering a bill making vaccination mandatory for education and health care workers. Similarly, the northeastern region of Yakutia revealed plans to make vaccination mandatory, although the decision has been rolled back a few days later. If the country’s vaccination campaign remains sluggish over the summer, the push for mandatory vaccination – at least for certain occupational groups – could strengthen, particularly after the general election in September.