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22 Jun, 2022 20:27

EU member ousts pro-NATO government

Bulgarian prime minister blames Russia for defection of his junior coalition partner
EU member ousts pro-NATO government

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov lost a no-confidence vote in the parliament on Wednesday, after a junior partner in his tenuous ruling coalition joined the opposition. The Harvard graduate and former Canadian citizen denounced his critics as Russian agents beholden to organized crime and vowed to continue fighting to make Bulgaria, what he called, a “normal European country.”

Of the 239 members in the parliament in Sofia, 123 voted for Petkov’s ouster in what Bulgarian state media described as the first successful no-confidence vote in the country’s modern history. Only 116 backed the PM, with no abstentions.

After the vote, Petkov accused the main opposition party, Revival, of being a conduit for “Russian interests” and said it had been his honor to lead a government that sought to root out corruption and organized crime.

“We will continue to fight so that one day we can have a Bulgaria without the mafia, a normal successful European country,” Petkov said in his parting remarks. 

President Rumen Radev now has three attempts to get a new government appointed. If all of them fail, he would have to dissolve the parliament and call a new general election – the fourth since April 2021. 

“This parliament has brought only shame and disgrace to Bulgarian democracy. The sooner it is sent into history, the better for Bulgaria,” Revival leader Kostadin Kostadinov told state radio. Deputy leader of the opposition GERB party, Daniel Mitov, said Petkov’s attempt to blame Russia was just the ousted PM “looking for an alibi” for his loss. 

The no-confidence vote was technically caused when the ITN party led by former TV personality Slavi Trifonov defected from Petkov’s ruling coalition over budget concerns and the government’s willingness to support neighboring North Macedonia’s bid to join the EU. The break also came amid rising economic hardship, as Petkov’s anti-Russian stance led to Bulgaria getting cut off from 90% of its natural gas supplies. 

Petkov, 42, had fired Defense Minister Stefan Yanev in February, accusing him of promoting “Russian narratives” after he referred to the conflict in Ukraine as a “military operation” and not a war. His government also pledged to repair Ukrainian military equipment and support a greater NATO presence in the east.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had publicly thanked Petkov earlier on Wednesday for a “readiness to support granting our country the status of a candidate for EU membership.”

Petkov has a finance degree from the University of British Columbia and a MBA from Harvard. He claimed to have renounced his Canadian citizenship in April 2021 to become economy minister in the previous cabinet, but ended up getting disqualified when it emerged the procedure had not been finalized until August. He founded the We Continue the Change (PP) party with his Harvard classmate Asen Vasilev in September 2021 and became prime minister in December, with the support of 134 MPs and 104 opposed.