Members of the Bulgarian parliament on Wednesday voted for a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.
The move potentially sets the stage for a fresh round of elections. However, Petkov's centrist PP party does have a second chance to propose a government to lawmakers.
The vote to topple the goverment, which only came to power 6 months ago, was a narrow one with 123 delegates voting in favor and 116 against.
Why was there a no-confidence vote?
The vote comes after the ruling coalition lost its majority amid disputes over budget spending and Sofia's blocking of North Macedonia's EU accession.
Petkov had after a decade of rule by the conservative Boyko Borissov.
However, the coalition started to look shaky soon after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which accentuated divisions with the government. While Petkov has taken a strong pro-European and pro-NATO position since the war began, Bulgaria has strong historical ties with Moscow. Petkov sacked his defense minister shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine for refusing to call it a "war."
Earlier this month, the anti-establishment ITN party led by entertainer Slavi Trifonov withdrew its support from the coalition.
Borisov's conservative GERB party quickly filed a no-confidence motion that cited "the failure of the government's economic and financial policy" amid soaring inflation.
Petkov said it was an honor to be overthrown by rival party leaders Borissov and Trifonov, also blaming Bulgarian oligarch and media mogul Delyan Peevski and Russia's ambassador to Bulgaria, Eleonora Mitrofanova.
"This vote is a small step on a long road. They did not understand that this is not the way to win the Bulgarian people," Petkov said, referring to his opponents.
The 42-year-old Harvard graduate promised he would continue fighting for Bulgaria to be a "normal" European state.
What happens now?
The country could now face its fourth general election since April 2021. Millions of euros from EU recovery funds could be at risk, as well as the country's plans to adopt the euro in 2024.
Petkov could avoid fresh elections and formal coalition talks with other parties if there are enough defections among lawmakers to garner support for a new government.
Otherwise, it is thought that fresh polls could benefit Borissov's GERB party — as well as pro-Russian parties like the nationalist Revival.
Such a result could hold up the EU accession of certain Western Balkan countries, and strengthen Russian influence in the region.
Bulgaria has consistently blocked North Macedonia's bid to join the EU, something which has also indirectly hampered Albania's accession as well.
Petkov has been a "driving force'' in pushing for a resolution to the dispute. Sofia insists that North Macedonia formally recognize that its language has Bulgarian roots. It also wants the country to acknowledge a Bulgarian minority in its constitution.
rc/rt (AFP, Reuters, AP)