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Antiestablishment Party's Nikolov Gets Mandate To Form Bulgarian Government

Plamen Nikolov has been nominated for prime minister.
Plamen Nikolov has been nominated for prime minister.

SOFIA -- President Rumen Radev has asked a newly elected lawmaker from Bulgaria's antiestablishment party, There Is Such a People (ITN), to form the country's next government after the party narrowly won parliamentary elections on July 11.

ITN's nominee for prime minister, the relatively unknown 44-year-old Plamen Nikolov, was announced on July 30 shortly before Radev formally gave him the mandate to form a new government.

Nikolov will have seven days to put together his proposed cabinet and win support from at least 121 lawmakers in Bulgaria's fragmented 240-seat parliament.

ITN won only 65 parliamentary seats in the July 11 elections.

So far, no political force has announced whether it will support a government formed by ITN.

Even if Nikolov wins support from two apparently sympathetic protest parties -- Democratic Bulgaria and a group called Stand Up, BG! We Are Coming! -- his cabinet would only have the backing of 112 deputies.

In an attempt to form a majority coalition, ITN already has begun talks with the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which won 36 parliamentary seats.

ITN representatives also have met with members of a mostly ethnic Turkish party called the Movement For Rights and Freedoms (DPS). It controls 29 seats in the new parliament.

All parties in parliament have rejected the idea of forming a coalition with the GERB party of the previous prime minister, Boyko Borisov, which won 63 seats in the July 11 elections.

"People voted for you with the expectation of consolidating the front of change against the failed corruption model of power," Radev told Nikolov on July 30, noting that the mandate must be returned if he is unable to gather support from a majority of parliament.

Nikolov told Radev: "I will do my best to keep everything within the established legal deadlines."

Speaking to reporters in Sofia on July 30, Nikolov said his government would have five "top priorities."

He said the first priority would be a recovery and sustainability plan under which Bulgaria expects to receive some 6 billion euros ($7 billion ) from the European Union.

He said controlling an expected new wave of the coronavirus would be his government's second priority.

Other priorities include recalculating Bulgarians' pensions, reforming the electoral system, and implementing judicial reforms, Nikolov said.

Toshko Yordanov, head of ITN's parliamentary group, told journalists on July 30 that all five priorities are supported by Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up, BG! We Are Coming!

Yordanov said some of ITN's priorities also are shared by the BSP.

ITN was set up as an antiestablishment party by Stanislav Trifonov, a popular late-night talk show host and folk-pop singer, shortly before a corruption scandal in 2020 sparked weeks-long mass protests against Borisov's GERB-led government.

Trifonov is known to millions of Bulgarians simply as "Slavi." He and ITN won over disenchanted voters amid widespread poverty and frustration over endemic corruption.

RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service reports that Nikolov does not have a wide base of public support beyond his affiliation with Trifonov as a member of ITN.

Nikolov had appeared in a segment of Trifonov's popular Show Of Fame television program called Casting For Politicians. The segment was aired in 2018 by Bulgaria's largest television broadcaster, bTV.

"I run the office of an American company for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa," Nikolov said at the time.

Nikolov also said in his Casting For Politicians appearance that "education is the most serious element of national security."

Born in the northern Bulgarian town of Gorna Oryahovitsa, Nikolov studied in Austria and received a doctorate of philosophy in law, politics, and economics.

According to the ITN website, Nikolov also has more than 15 years of experience "in business development and project management."

If Nikolov fails to put together a coalition in support of his proposed government, the mandate would next be handed over to the second-place party in the July 11 elections -- GERB.

Bulgaria's constitution says that if the second-place party also can't win majority support in parliament for its proposed government, the president has the right to decide who receives the mandate for a third attempt.

If that political force fails, the constitution says the president must call new parliamentary elections.

That happened after elections on April 4 when no one was able to put together a government with majority support in the legislature.

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