SOFIA Bulgaria's centre-right government survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote on Thursday, called over a failure to reform its inefficient judiciary and combat organized crime and corruption that has awakened concerns in Brussels.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's cabinet survived the vote, the fourth since it took office three years ago, with backing of independent lawmakers, as had been widely expected.
72 lawmakers supported the motion compared to 121 needed to topple the centre-right government. 136 voted against.
The leftist opposition and the ethnic Turkish MRF party, filed the motion after the European Union said it would prolong its monitoring of Bulgaria's justice system and efforts to clamp down on organized crime and deep-seated corruption.
The Socialists say an attack by a suicide bomber that killed five Israeli tourists in the Black Sea city of Burgas last week adds to evidence of the cabinet's weakness on security policy.
The opposition argue that the extended EU monitoring will block Bulgaria's bid to join Europe's passport-free Schengen zone and reinforce the image of the EU's newest and poorest and country as a second-class member.
Bulgaria has failed to uncover and sanction the majority of some 150 contract killings in the past ten years and has not jailed a single top official on corruption charges.
Opinion polls show that Borisov's GERB party remains the most popular political party, though austerity measures - although milder than in many other European countries - and the lack of significant results in fighting crime and graft have eroded his support.
Organized crime still exercises substantial influence over the emerging economy, stifling market competition and deterring much needed foreign investment to spur growth, EU experts and local analysts say.
It is estimated to generate about 1.8 billion euros a year, or 5 percent of Bulgaria's domestic product, a recent report from an independent Sofia based think-tank said.
The Centre for the Study of the Democracy said the key challenge for the country was to deal with local "oligarchs" who run legitimate businesses but are also involved in tax fraud schemes and rely on illicit lobbying and corruption.
The government has set up a specialized court to prosecute organized crime and adopted a new, tougher law on confiscating illegally obtained assets, but it is yet to convince Bulgarians and EU partners it is serious about combating crime and graft.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Patrick Graham)