* Socialist leader hints at election by year-end
* Pressure on government growing after poor EU election
* Political instability has thwarted reforms
* Rift in coalition over South Stream pipeline
(Adds details, background)
By Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA, June 6 The head of Bulgaria's ruling
Socialist party backed calls on Friday for an early election,
setting the clock ticking on an unpopular minority government
that looks increasingly unlikely to survive into next year.
Pressure has mounted on technocrat Prime Minister Plamen
Oresharski's government since May's European parliament
elections, which the centre-right opposition GERB party won by a
The Socialists have been in power for a year, and their time
in office has been dogged by months of street protests over
corruption in the European Union's poorest country, and a series
of parliamentary no-confidence votes.
If the government falls it would be second such collapse in
two years after a GERB-led administration fell in February 2013.
The long period of political instability has thwarted any
meaningful attempts at reform in the country of 7.3 million,
such as tackling graft, cleaning up the judiciary and
overhauling inefficient education and healthcare sectors.
On Thursday, the junior partner in the coalition government,
the ethnic Turkish MRF, called for an election by the end of the
Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev said he would start
consultations with partners and other political parties on when
new elections should be held.
"I do not think that the idea for such vote to be in a year
is appropriate. The election should not be delayed, given that
there is a lack of stronger public support," he told reporters
Stanishev dismissed opposition calls for a snap poll but at
the same time hinted an election could take place within months.
He said a "new parliament" should approve next year's budget, a
process that must take place by the end of 2014.
Rifts have emerged between the Socialists and MRF, most
recently over Bulgaria's refusal to stop work on the South
Stream gas pipeline across the Black Sea, whose fate has become
entangled in the dispute between the West and Russia over
The Socialists, many of whose core voters are pro-Russian,
want the Russian-led project to continue, while the MRF said
Bulgaria should not act without Brussels' support.
While new elections will end the current political
stalemate, analysts say voters are likely to elect another
fragmented parliament that could in turn produce another
unstable coalition government.
Prime Minister Oresharski's government relies on the support
of a hardline nationalist party to stay in power and pass laws.
The Socialists won just 19 percent of the vote in the May 25
election, while GERB won 30 percent. The result has prompted the
opposition to call another no-confidence vote against the
government, which will take place next week.
At Friday's press conference, Stanishev also proposed the
introduction of compulsory voting to boost the credibility of
Bulgaria's electoral process.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov; editing
by Matthias Williams and John Stonestreet)