Bulgarian lawmakers on Monday voted in Kiril Petkov, a Harvard-educated entrepreneur, as prime minister and approved the lineup of his broad coalition government, ending months of political deadlock in the European Union’s poorest member state.
Petkov, 41, whose new centrist faction We Continue The Change (PP) won Bulgaria’s third national election this year in November, secured a clear majority of 134 votes in the 240-member parliament to take over the reins of government.
He will lead an unprecedented ruling coalition with the leftist Socialists, anti-establishment ITN party and the center-right Democratic Bulgaria, united under the motto “zero tolerance for corruption,” for a four-year term.
“I will insist that corruption from the lowest to the highest level be exposed,” Petkov told the chamber prior to his election, appealing to all lawmakers to support legal changes needed to overhaul the judiciary.
The new government takes over following eight months of political impasse and two interim administrations after anger against high-level graft ended the decade-long rule of former center-right premier Boyko Borissov.
Wearing a black face mask, Petkov shook hands with his closest allies as he received a standing ovation from the ruling coalition’s lawmakers upon his election.
Petkov, a Harvard-educated entrepreneur who served as minister of economics in the previous caretaker cabinet, announced that transparency in public spending, zero tolerance for corruption and reforms in the judiciary will be the keystones of his government program.
He will navigate a four-party alliance of Borissov’s political foes with a vow to clean up public life, speed growth to over 5% a year and catch up faster with richer Western peers.
“What we will govern is not our money, but that of all Bulgarian citizens,” Petkov said, and urged legislators to give their support so that “once and for all the country will have an effective judicial system.”
His cabinet will have to steer Bulgaria through challenges ranging from high energy costs and low Covid vaccination rates to preparing the economy for euro zone entry in 2024.
“My first task will be to keep the electricity costs for consumers at bay and boost the level of vaccinations at least to the average level in the EU,” Petkov told reporters.
Households have been shielded from a surge in global energy prices so far due to regulated prices. The prices however are set to rise from January 1.
Petkov said he plans to keep coronavirus vaccine take-up voluntary, but will launch an information campaign to convince skeptical Bulgarians to get inoculated. Only 26% of adults are fully vaccinated, compared to an average 70% in the EU.
He pledged to deepen Bulgaria’s integration into the EU and NATO alliance and intensify talks with neighboring North Macedonia to solve a historic dispute that has prompted Sofia to block the start of EU accession talks with Skopje.
Other priorities of the new government include tackling the demographic crisis.
The country of 7 million has one of the world’s fastest-shrinking populations.
“I believe that after four years Bulgaria will be a different place,” Petkov said after presenting the government program. [Reuters, AP]