Bulgaria begins talks for new cabinet, election

Fri Feb 22, 2013 8:43am EST

* Main political parties support early election

* Bulgaria may have interim government next week

* More protests over electricity prices planned

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's president launched talks to create a new government on Friday after violent protests toppled the austerity-minded cabinet and put the Balkan country on course for an early election and a potential political deadlock.

The resignation of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's cabinet has failed to quell public anger over high utility bills, and more protests are planned on Friday evening, as well as over the weekend.

President Rosen Plevneliev began talks with the main political parties, including Borisov's centre-right GERB party and their rivals the Socialists, on the prospect of creating a government ahead of an election scheduled for July.

Both parties have signalled they have no intention to join a new cabinet, however, so Plevneliev will most likely appoint a caretaker administration next week and bring the vote forward to a new date as early as the end of April.

Plevneliev criticised Borisov, a former bodyguard of late Soviet-era dictator Todor Zhivkov, for quitting. "The politically responsible option was for the cabinet to finish its term," he said on Thursday.

Plevneliev said an interim cabinet would focus on ensuring fair elections.

Growing public frustration over the government's failure to boost living standards in the EU's poorest member state boiled over into bloody protests this month.

Many in the Black Sea state of 7.3 million are also angered by Borisov's failure to make good on his 2009 election pledge to stamp out endemic corruption and reform inefficient healthcare and education systems.

On Wednesday, he gave into the pressure and stepped down -- the latest administration to fall in Europe's four-year-old debt crisis.

CARETAKER CABINET

Recession-weary voters, analysts say, could produce a hung parliament and the type of political stalemate that has stalled reforms in neighbouring Romania and Greece.

GERB is running neck-and-neck with the Socialists. But with polls showing them both at around 22 to 23 percent support, neither is expected to win a majority in the upcoming vote.

Bulgaria has narrowly avoided the recession that has hit other former communist countries in the European Union's eastern wing.

But since a sharp contraction in 2009, Bulgaria has failed to resume the type of rapid growth it needs to catch up with its richer EU partners and standards are stuck at about 45 percent of the bloc's average.

On Friday, dozens of people protested in a car rally against Czech power distributor CEZ in the northeastern city of Vratsa, after the energy regulator opened a process to revoke its licence but suggested there was a room for compromise.

Borisov promised an 8 percent cut in electricity bills as of March, but the energy regulator said a possible decrease can be introduced as of April at the earliest.

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