Bulgaria’s Petkov points finger at mafia and Russia as government collapses

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov planted the blame squarely on Russia and his own country’s powerful mafia after his government lost a no-confidence vote on Wednesday.

Petkov, who only came to power six months ago, was voted in on a pledge to fight the country’s rampant corruption and has pushed Sofia to take an unusually strong line against Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

In the vote of no-confidence, some 123 lawmakers out of 239 in parliament voted against his cabinet.

“This vote is one tiny step along the very long road ahead of us. I promise we will continue the battle to win the country back and, one day, we will have a Bulgaria without puppet masters, without the mafia — a normal European country,” he said, in a valedictory address before the national assembly.

Giving a list of the people who had been instrumental to tearing down his administration, Petkov named the Russian ambassador in Sofia and accused Russia of exercising its influence over his removal through lawmakers from the far-right Revival party.

The no-confidence vote on Wednesday was precipitated by former television talk show host-turned politician Slavi Trifonov abruptly pulling his “There is Such a People” party out of a fragile four-party governing coalition. Trifonov says he has disagreements over the budget and accuses Petkov of taking too soft a line on allowing North Macedonia to begin EU accession talks.

In the past days, much of the political debate centered on whether Trifonov was pulling the plug on the government for reasons related to Bulgaria’s powerful oligarchic mafia, who would stand to lose out in Petkov’s promised crackdown against graft. That interpretation was boosted by a handful of lawmakers from Trifonov’s party, who defected to Petkov precisely because they said their own party was siding with the mafia. Trifonov retorted that the mafia allegations were absurd.

Petkov’s party, followed by the opposition, will now have an opportunity to try to garner support for a workable majority. If this fails — as seems probable — the country will be set for its fourth general election since April 2021.