SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s largest party GERB declined on Thursday to try to form a new government, opening the way for the rival Socialists to put together a technocrat administration and end a political impasse.
The centre-right GERB won most seats in a May 12 election in the European Union’s poorest country but cannot command a majority, as other parties are shunning it after its resignation during protests against low living standards in February.
“Every day, every hour is important for Bulgaria to have a government, so please allow me to return the mandate now, so that you can continue with your consultations,” a subdued GERB leader Boiko Borisov told Bulgaria’s president, local media reported. Borisov refused to answer questions from journalists.
With every fifth Bulgarian living under the poverty line and unemployment at an eight-year high, the country needs a working government to draft a 2014 budget and negotiate EU funds to 2021 - key to reviving the economy and creating new jobs.
The Socialists, aware of simmering public anger with politicians, have proposed a government made up of technical experts, headed by a non-partisan former finance minister.
With allies from the ethnic Turkish MRF, the Socialists are one seat short of a majority but analysts say the proposal is likely to win parliamentary backing with support from or abstentions by individual MPs from GERB and the nationalist Attack.
President Rosen Plevneliev will ask the Socialists later on Thursday to try to form a government, which could face a parliamentary vote next week.
The divisions in parliament had prompted concerns that Bulgarians might have to return to the polls, so the prospect of a working government will bring some reassurance of stability.
But short of a majority, the proposed cabinet of experts headed by Plamen Oresharski - a former finance minister in a Socialist government who is not a party member - will struggle to push through serious reforms and could easily collapse.
With an economy that is barely growing, it will not be easy to keep debt low to maintain a currency peg to the euro while also spending more to soothe public anger.
The Socialists have promised to maintain fiscal discipline but also to create jobs, keep down electricity costs - which provoked the February demonstrations - and help the poorest pay their bills.
The Socialist proposal looks set to win parliament’s support because only a simple majority of the MPs registered for the vote is needed. That means it will be approved if some of Attack’s 23 deputies boycott the vote, as they did for election of a new speaker.
“It would be a huge surprise if the Socialists and the MRF party fail to form a cabinet,” said Sofia University political analyst Rumiana Kolarova.
“This cabinet will survive at least one year, as it will set itself minimalist, anti-crisis measures that are not so difficult to achieve.”
Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Andrew Roche