Petkov blazingly rises to power by fighting corruption in Bulgaria

  • He won the Bulgarian parliamentary elections promising to tackle corruption
  • The political stalemate is about to end after long term Prime Minister Borsiov
  • A broad coalition deal has brought together parties with different ideological backgrounds
Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev - Bulgaria
Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev

Why is Petkov’s temperature blazing?

Answer: Petkov is  likely to end the political deadlock in Bulgaria after winning the parliamentary elections 

The newly founded anti-corruption party, We Continue The Change (PP), won the country’s latest parliamentary elections on November 14. The centrist party was formed by Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev in September. The two Harvard graduates, acknowledging public sentiment, positioned their party as a response to the endemic corruption in the country. Leading a newly formed party, they managed to win the public vote. He sees himself as the next prime minister and Vassilev as the finance minister.

Last year, widespread anti-corruption protests took place. Inside Bulgaria and abroad, in cities with a large diaspora, protesters marched against the long-standing corruption in the country and asked for the resignation of the government led by Boyko Borisov. The protests were triggered by the police raids on Bulgarian President Rumen Radev’s offices amid rising political tension between Radev and the government of Borisov in early July 2020.

After the incident, the Bulgarian President, a longstanding outspoken critic of Prime Minister Borisov, called for the resignation of the “mafia-type” conservative government. In addition, the judiciary system has been criticised over political dependencies, while fears were raised over the state of the rule of law in the country. Protesters also called for the resignation of the chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who has been accused of turning a blind eye to widespread corruption in the country. 

The (alleged) corruption during Prime Minister Borisov’s tenure in office, his “links with oligarchs” and businesses, and the accusations of lack of judicial independence, formed an explosive cocktail; nevertheless, PM Borisov refused to resign. Protests continued until April 2021, when Borisov fell from power after he failed to form a government, marking the beginning of a political deadlock. After inconclusive general elections in April and July, Bulgarians headed to the polls for the third time in November 2021. This time people from across the political spectrum united to oust Borisov’s party from power.  

What is changing Petkov’s temperature?

Answer: His blazing win of the latest parliamentary elections.

The founders of We Continue The Change (PP) formed their movement in September and within a very short timeframe, they unexpectedly secured 25.7% of the votes that marked their victory. Their path to victory was paved through the combination of the “anti-corruption” narrative and their proclaimed competence in disentangling Bulgaria from past malpractices. 

He was the previous caretaker government’s Minister of Economy, between May and September, after the inconclusive elections of April. His term in office was marked by an explosive media appearance, in which he emphasised alleged misuse of government funds for private gains under former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

Even though he quickly gained popularity, he also received criticism over his dual citizenship, due to which on October 27, his position as the Minister of Economy was retracted – as the Constitution of Bulgaria states that ministers must only be Bulgarian citizens. Nevertheless, though the Constitutional Court’s decision came less than three weeks ahead of the November 14 elections, his anti-corruption narrative secured him the electoral win. After the election, he promised zero corruption in the next four years, a very ambitious goal for a country where corruption is endemic.

We Continue The Change is holding talks with three other parties to form a coalition government. Potential partners are the Socialists, the anti-graft faction Democratic Bulgaria and the anti-elite ‘There Is Such a People’ party. While Bulgarian parties failed to build a coalition government after the two preceding electoral rounds in April and July, the soon-to-be Prime Minister, Petkov, has repeatedly underscored the country’s need for a stable government that will tackle corruption, deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and lead the EU’s poorest country to prosperity.

On Monday, December 6, Petkov said that a draft coalition agreement was sent late on Sunday to PP’s future partners and on Friday, December 10, he said that PP and partners sealed a broad coalition deal. If he gets their support in the vote in parliament, he will assume the post of Prime Minister and will end the political deadlock that has drawn out a political crisis.

What is driving Petkov?

Answer: He aims to stabilise the turbulent political scene in Bulgaria       

He has presented himself -and his party- as an anti-corruption warrior. He has proclaimed his background as a Harvard graduate and an entrepreneur, while he has undermined ideological differences that could halt cooperation. The former businessman has built his political identity around the fight against corruption. “Left, centre or right, it doesn’t matter,” Petkov said. “If we can stop [corruption] and redistribute money for the wellbeing of the taxpayers, then we should be able to come to an agreement with several parties.”

He aims to enhance transparency and implement reforms to turn Bulgaria into a ‘success story’ of reinventing a country. He has just started his political career; nevertheless, during these months, he has been very specific on the interplay between politicians and businesses and has not shied away from disclosing malpractices. Replying to the criticism over his dual citizenship, he claimed that the Court’s ruling was politically-motivated and that he had submitted the documents to drop his Canadian citizenship in April, 2021, before his appointment as a Minister. Petkov is to be driven by (desirable) change. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Even though the results of the election will stabilise Bulgarian politics, the question is, for how long. 

It is not the first time that a party in Bulgaria has made promises about tackling corruption. Others before PP have entered Bulgarian politics aspiring to fight deeply rooted malpractices in this sphere. However, hardly any change has been achieved. Even though all parties of the coalition are committed to working together, according to Petkov, the coalition brings together left, centrists and right-wing factions, making us sceptical on whether it will last.

Nevertheless, now, more than ever before, Bulgaria needs a stable government to lead the country through the COVID-19 pandemic and the political stalemate. The stakes are high for the poorest member of the EU that needs to bounce back. Bulgaria has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world, with about 24.4% of the country’s population being fully vaccinated. 

At the EU level, forming a stable government would end the deadlock around the 2022 budget, with this secure EU money and Bulgaria’s membership in the euro area. In October, Bulgaria submitted its Recovery and Resilience Plan requesting 6.6 billion euros in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). Thus, a stable government is paramount for its monetary aspirations to materialise. Bulgaria’s neighbours have welcomed the elections’ result.

Specifically, North Macedonia aspires that the new government will lift the veto -exercised by the government of Boyko Borisov- of its EU accession, and negotiations will start. Albeit, there are several points of friction between the two countries, with the most prevalent being language and history. Different positions on these points could possibly divide the coalition government and create dissatisfaction among the Bulgarian population.