October 10, 2014 / 12:12 PM / 3 years ago

Bulgarian election winner seeks broad coalition to govern

Boiko Borisov, leader of Bulgaria's centre right GERB party, speaks during their first news conference after winning the general elections in Sofia October 10, 2014. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

SOFIA (Reuters) - The winner of Bulgaria’s election said on Friday he wanted to form a majority government, shifting tactics after last weekend’s vote produced a fractured result threatening his chances of becoming prime minister again.

Boiko Borisov, who led Bulgaria from 2009 to 2013, had initially said he was ready to head a minority government after his center-right GERB party won about a third of the vote on Sunday but fell 37 seats short of a majority.

The former bodyguard and karate expert said only a majority could provide stability in the European Union’s poorest country, whose next government will be its fifth in two years.

The country’s economic growth is sluggish, foreign investment has tumbled and a banking crisis following runs on two domestic lenders has festered since June.

“If a government is to be formed, the responsibility should be shared,” he told a news conference in Sofia. “Support without participation in government is not support in my view. It means next week they can invent a reason and withdraw their support.”

Borisov gave no explanation for his change of mind. Analysts said he appeared to be trying to strengthen his hand in talks with potential coalition partners by leaving open the option of offering them cabinet posts.

A broader coalition would also mean he would not need to depend on support from the ethnic Turkish MRF party, junior partner in the previous scandal-tinged minority coalition led by the Socialists.

“It would have been very hard for Bulgarians to accept a minority government because of doubts that it would be kept in office with the support of the MRF party,” said Daniel Smilov, an analyst with the Sofia-based Center for Liberal Strategies.

DIFFICULT WEEKS AHEAD

Bulgaria looks set for a difficult few weeks of coalition negotiations. The first round of cross-party talks is due to begin on Monday.

Borisov was toppled in February 2013 by street protests against high electricity prices and low living standards. He won a subsequent election but, like this week, fell short of a majority and a Socialist-led minority government took office.

President Rosen Plevneliev has urged parties to work together to avoid another election. But even if a government can be formed, analysts question how long it will last and say new protests over higher energy prices could erupt this winter.

Borisov’s most likely ally, a group of right-wing parties known as the Reformist Bloc, on Thursday laid down conditions for joining a GERB government, including demands for judicial and education reform.

Another potential partner are nationalists known as the Patriotic Front, whose policies include curbing welfare payments that often go to Bulgaria’s Roma minority.

Borisov, well-known as a football fan, on election night last Sunday said he planned to watch Real Madrid on TV as opposed to press conferences from rival political parties.

The theme continued on Friday as Borisov dismissed speculation he would step aside to let someone else become prime minister, as some leaders of the Reformist Bloc demand.

Borisov said he wanted to be like Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo, in the thick of things and “kicked on the field” as the premier, rather than a manager on the sidelines like Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho.

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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