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Bulgaria proposes electoral changes to soothe public anger
June 18, 2013 / 2:22 PM / 4 years ago

Bulgaria proposes electoral changes to soothe public anger

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s Socialists, in power for only three weeks at the head of a fragile government, promised on Tuesday to reform the electoral law in a bid to defuse the street protests that have resumed with new momentum despite last month’s election.

Protesters shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration in central Sofia June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Thousands of Bulgarians have been demonstrating in Sofia and other cities since Friday demanding the resignation of the new government after it squandered its credibility by hurriedly naming a powerful media figure as head of national security. More protests were scheduled for Tuesday.

Prime Minister Plamen Oresharki has already said the appointment of Delyan Peevski will be reversed - a decision that parliament is due to formalise on Wednesday - but said his own resignation would only destabilise the economy.

With the frustrations over corruption and poverty that felled the last government already boiling up again, the Socialists, in a precarious position in parliament, offered to take account of protesters’ demands for electoral reform that would bring in new lawmakers and make them more accountable.

“We will work to speed up changes ... as having fair elections is a cause not only for the citizens but also for the democratic parties,” senior Socialist legislator Maya Manolova told non-government organisations in parliament.

Bulgaria is the poorest member of the European Union.

Protesters shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration in central Sofia June 17, 2013. Bulgaria's prime minister pledged on Monday to seek wide public support in picking a new head of state security after street protests forced the two-week old Socialist-led government to ditch its original candidate. Thousands of Bulgarians rallied to demand the government's resignation after it named a powerful media figure to the highly sensitive post without debate, a move critics said showed the lack of transparency in the European Union's poorest country. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

With its mainstream parties discredited in public eyes by the perception that they are either corrupt or soft on corruption, protesters are demanding a law that makes it easier for smaller citizens’ groups to get into parliament. They also want individual lawmakers to be more personally accountable to constituents.

Analysts say the government, which has to rely on the passive support of a small nationalist party, is unlikely to serve out its term, but that it is unlikely to crumble just yet.

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“I don’t expect an immediate resignation but it’s clear that, without public trust and shaky parliamentary support, it will be hard for it to manage,” said Tsvetozar Tomov, a political analyst at the independent pollster Skala.

“The government might hold on until the spring at the latest, and I think we could have fresh polls this year,” he said.

Otilia Simkova of the political risk consultancy Eurasia said the protests had shown that last month’s snap election had failed to mollify the street:

“While it would be difficult to push through a vote of no confidence in Oresharski’s government at the moment, the government is likely to face strong and vocal parliamentary opposition as well as noisy public scrutiny of its decisions.”

The previous, centre-right GERB government was forced to resign in February after mass protests over low living standards and a failure to tackle graft. It returned to parliament as the biggest party but failed to secure a functioning majority, leaving the Socialists to cobble together a minority government.

Additional reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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