Muslim Party Joins Bulgaria's Minority Government ALL - 2005/7/25
Source: Islam Online, Qatar

Bulgaria's Socialists formed on Sunday, July 24, a minority government with a party representing the Muslim minority, with young non-partisans given key cabinet posts.

Premier-designate Sergey Stanishev unveiled a cabinet comprising 13 ministers from his Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and five from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), reported Agence France Presse (AFP).

"This government is not only comprised by the Socialists and the MRF, but one which will work for national interests and the interests of all Bulgarians," said Stanishev.

The Socialists, who won 82 seats in the June 25 legislative elections, will sign a formal coalition treaty with the MRF, which has 34 parliamentary seats, later on Sunday.

Stanishev will then submit the cabinet list to President Georgi Parvanov, with the parliament expected to hold a confidence vote on Tuesday, July 26.

The centrist National Movement (NMSII) of outgoing Premier and ex-king Simeon Saxe-Coburg, which has 54 seats, has refused to join a coalition government.

The MRF joined the government in 2001 for the first time after winning 20 seats in the elections that year.

It had two ministers, seven deputy ministers and three regional governors.

In the last municipal elections in 2003, the MRF won 10 percent of the vote -- the same result scored by the NMSII.

The MRF was created during the communist rule in Bulgaria in response to the regime's brutal assimilation campaign against the Muslim minority.

It commands support from the 800,000-strong ethnic Turk community in Bulgaria as well as from the so-called Pomacs -- Slavs who embraced Islam during the Ottoman rule -- and a small group of Muslim Gypsies.

Support for the MRF is strongest in the tobacco-growing southern regions around Kurdzhali and in the northeastern town of Razgrad, with its high Turkish population.

Young Non-partisans

Stanishev named Ivailo Kalfin, a respected economic adviser to President Georgi Parvanov, as deputy prime minister and foreign and EU affairs minister, reported Reuters.

Boiko Kotsev, the outgoing deputy interior minister and the man in charge ensuring rule-of-law in Bulgaria meets EU standards, was given control of justice -- the ministry many analysts say will make or break Bulgaria's EU accession efforts.

And in a surprise move, Stanishev named Plamen Oresharski, deputy finance minister in charge of foreign debt under the 1997-2001 right-of-center government, as finance minister.

Analysts said that by choosing a handful of respected experts for leading positions, the Socialists had given deputies from rival parties a convincing reason to back a minority government and prevent a crisis that could lead to snap polls.

"It looks like a decent semi-professional government. It's a good sign," said Ognian Shentov, head of the Centre for the Study of Democracy.

"Some of the Socialists' rivals could use these non-political figures as an excuse to support the cabinet, especially with the added need for stability in regards to EU membership."

The Socialists and MRF control only 116 of parliament's 240 seats, but they say they have poached enough votes from individual deputies from rival parties to win the simple majority needed to survive the motion.

"I am convinced that there are enough responsible deputies who will make their choice and defend the priorities of Bulgaria," Socialist deputy leader Rumen Petkov told Reuters.

Brussels has warned the Black Sea state of 8 million it will delay its accession to the EU until 2008 unless it can quickly form a government and complete reforms including an overhaul of its slow and often corrupt judicial system.

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