Bulgaria president appoints caretaker govt, calls snap polls in July

FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S.
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By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA (Reuters) -Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev called a snap parliamentary election on Tuesday for July 11 and appointed Stefan Yanev, his close security and defence adviser, as caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed.

The European Union's poorest member state is heading to the polls again just three months after an election in April resulted in a fragmented parliament that failed to produce a government.

No major policy shifts are expected, given the limited powers of a caretaker administration, analysts said.

Yanev, 61, was a deputy premier and defence minister in another caretaker government Radev appointed in 2017. He will be tasked with managing the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring a fair election, the president said in a statement.

Yanev's government, which takes office on Wednesday, will also have to decide whether or not to submit a national plan to Brussels on how Sofia plans to use more than 6 billion euros from the EU's coronavirus economic recovery fund.

Analysts saw Yanev's appointment as a sign that Radev, a vocal critic of outgoing prime minister Boyko Borissov, wants a greater say in how the Balkan country is run as he eyes re-election in an autumn presidential vote.

Under Bulgaria's post-communist constitution, the president is a largely ceremonial head of state with limited powers, though he plays a key role at such times when parties are unable to form a government by appointing an interim administration.

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Radev, a former head of Bulgaria's airforce, was elected in 2016 with the backing of the opposition Socialists and has most recently called for anti-graft reforms in the country, which has been repeatedly rapped by the EU for failing to put high-level officials behind bars.

"Appointing his closest ally as premier shows Radev wants to have full control over the cabinet," said Daniel Smilov, an analyst with the Centre For Liberal Strategies.

In charge of the country's finances will be Assen Vassilev, 43, a graduate of Harvard University who served as economy and energy minister in 2013. Atanas Pekanov, a 30-year-old economist at the Austrian Institute of Economic Research, will be deputy premier overseeing EU funds.

Radev appointed Svetlan Stoev, 60, a career diplomat and Bulgaria's ambassador to Denmark as caretaker foreign minister.

The next election is also likely to produce a splintered parliament, analysts said, after a recent opinion poll showed Borrisov's incumbent centre-right GERB running neck-and-neck with a new party, ITN, led by TV host Slavi Trifonov.

GERB emerged as the largest party after the April vote, but it lost seats due to popular anger over entrenched corruption and was shunned by other parties for a coalition government.

After Borissov failed to form a government, attempts by the anti-elitist ITN and by the third largest party, the Socialists also floundered.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Alex Richardson, Gabriela Baczynska)

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