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Bulgaria’s Borissov to stand down as PM in govt his party hopes to form

Austria hosts leaders to discuss the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, in Vienna

SOFIA (Reuters) -Long-serving Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Wednesday he will not lead the government his GERB party tries to form after the April 4 election, proposing a pro-European former foreign minister to replace him.

His centre-right party, which has ruled for most of the past decade, lost a fifth of its seats amid public anger over rampant corruption that boosted new protest parties and delivered a more fragmented parliament in the Balkan country.

GERB remained the largest party, but fell well short of an outright majority in parliament and will struggle to hold on to power.

Three-times premier Borissov, 61, has modernised Bulgaria’s crumbling roads, boosted incomes and put the country into the euro zone’s “waiting room” during his time in office.

But opposition parties accuse him of fostering a climate of impunity among powerful officials and politically connected businessmen in what is the European Union’s poorest and most corrupt member state.

Borissov said GERB would still try to build enough support for a government and proposed Daniel Mitov, 43, a former foreign minister in his second government between 2014 and 2017 as a candidate to lead it.

He argued that national unity was crucial at a time when Bulgaria is struggling to cope with a surge in COVID-19 infections and with the economic impact of lockdown restrictions.

“Not that I am tired, old or unsuccessful…But when I make this proposal and you back me, it means that we are taking responsibility,” Borissov told a meeting with GERB lawmakers, which he streamed live on his Facebook page.

He said he had chosen Mitov to underline his party’s strong commitment to the Euro-Atlantic alliance.

Borissov said GERB was ready with all the choices of ministers, but would announce them once President Rumen Radev hands them a mandate to form a government.

He also said he would leave his seat as a lawmaker to focus on his work as party leader.

The chances for a fourth GERB-led cabinet look slim as all other parties in the new parliament have rejected Borissov’s offer for a broad, technocrat government.

If GERB fails, the new, anti-establishment party of TV talk-show host Slavi Trifonov, now the second biggest in parliament, will be asked to try to form a government.

“The chances for a GERB government, even one not led by Borissov, are very small,” said Rumiana Kolarova, political science lecturer at Sofia University.

“But Borissov’s move positions him as a responsible statesman, and increases pressure on Trifonov’s party to act in similar fashion. It also allows Borissov to maintain electoral support in any eventual new election.”

Prolonged political uncertainty could hamper Bulgaria’s ability to effectively tap the EU’s 750 billion euro ($896 billion) coronavirus Recovery Fund and slow its preparations to adopt the euro currency in 2024.

($1 = 0.8366 euros)

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Gareth Jones and Nick Macfie)

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