September 30, 2014 / 2:48 PM / in 3 years

Bulgaria needs urgent reforms after Sunday election: interim PM

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria needs a strong government after Sunday’s parliamentary election that will pursue radical reforms aimed at dragging the country out of its “post-communist swamp”, its caretaker prime minister said on Tuesday.

The Balkan country is gearing up for its third election in two years after the previous Socialist-led cabinet quit in July, battered by mass anti-corruption protests, deadly floods and a banking crisis. It had held office for barely a year.

Opinion polls suggest the center-right GERB party will win most votes on Sunday but fall short of an outright majority, raising the risk of further political instability in Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest member state.

“We need urgent, radical reforms. We have simply lost more than a year (under the Socialists),” caretaker premier Georgi Bliznashki told foreign correspondents.

“That is why we need a strong political government to start these long-delayed reforms because we cannot, figuratively speaking, stay in the post-communist swamp,” he said, adding that he hoped a new government could be formed by October 20.

Bliznashki, a former Socialist lawmaker and a professor of constitutional law, was appointed by the president to head an interim technocrat cabinet until the election. He is among a group of academics who backed a student occupation of Sofia University last year as part of the wider anti-graft protests.

“We have to undertake these tough reforms so that we can join the other former communist countries which joined the European Union in achieving a rhythm of sustainable development,” said Bliznashki.

Bulgaria has fallen further behind its regional peers, including neighboring Romania with which it joined the EU in 2007, as successive governments in Sofia have failed to tackle rampant corruption and organized crime.

Sofia also needs to tackle rising deficits in its energy sector, persuade a distrustful EU to unfreeze hundreds of millions of euros in blocked aid and overhaul its inefficient healthcare and education systems.

The economy is expected to grow by 1.5 percent this year.

Reporting By Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Matthias Williams and Gareth Jones

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