Bulgaria's president has started talks seeking a new government for the country days after public protests helped prompt the resignation of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov and his cabinet. The initial outlook is bleak.
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev began talks with the country's major political parties on Friday, seeking to establish a replacement government in the restless European Union member.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov of the center-right GERB party, Bulgaria's strongest, resigned on Wednesday after public protests fueled by high winter electricity bills. A 13-percent price hike, implemented in July 2012, began to bite during the winter. Some of the protests turned violent.
Plevneliev also criticized the outgoing government for putting him in this position.
"The politically responsible option was for the cabinet to finish its term," the president said on Thursday ahead of the talks.
Before resigning, Borisov pledged an 8-percent cut in prices, effective as of March, in a last-gasp bid to placate protesters. Bulgaria's energy regulator, however, immediately countered that such a measure would only be possible in April, at the earliest.
Fractured political landscape
Both GERB and the main opposition Socialist party said before the talks that they were not interested in a mandate to form a replacement government, preferring the option of early elections. Smaller parties have issued similar statements, meaning President Plevneliev's options looked limited as the talks began in Sofia.
In some senses, Bulgaria has weathered the eurozone's recent debt-related difficulties rather well. The country is not in recession and austerity measures have been comparatively mild. Moreover, the government in Sofia has not resorted to emergency international loans.
Yet the country remains the EU's poorest member state based on average annual salaries, with Bulgarians also disappointed at the government's failure to combat issues like corruption and organized crime. Despite its EU membership, Bulgaria has not been granted membership of the bloc's open-border Schengen zone, and its justice system is under special supervision from Brussels.
Opinion polls suggest that GERB and the Socialists enjoy similar levels of support, between 22 and 23 percent, indicating that elections would most likely create either a broad coalition or a hung parliament.
msh/tm (Reuters, dpa)