(Bloomberg) -- Bulgaria’s long-awaited coalition deal may face collapse, prolonging a years-long political crisis, as the Balkan country’s biggest party put talks to form a government talks on hold.

The two main parties reached an agreement last week to run the country jointly — including exchanging prime ministers on a rotational basis every nine months — in a bid to end a stalemate that’s led to five inconclusive elections since 2021. The turmoil has hindered Bulgaria’s goal to join the Schengen area and adopt the euro in 2024, and has delayed European Union recovery funding. 

Gerb, the party of former long-term Prime Minister Boyko Borissov that won April’s election, is freezing the cabinet talks with the second-largest faction led by ex-premier Kiril Petkov called We Continue the Change. Gerb’s premier-designate, Mariya Gabriel , who was supposed to take over the government in nine months, announced the party decision on Saturday.

The move follows the publication of a five-hour-long recording of a discussion in Petkov’s party that allegedly showed the party’s future strategy of administrative appointments following consultations with other countries’ embassies. The recording was published by one of Petkov’s lawmakers.

Petkov and his party leadership haven’t denied the authenticity of the conversation but have denied wrongdoing.

“Everything has limits,” Gabriel, a former EU commissioner who resigned from her Brussels office to run for prime minister, told reporters. She demanded “clear guarantees for adhering to the powers of the institutions and the fundamentals and the principles of the  Bulgarian country.”

Bulgaria has for years been labeled one of the EU’s most corrupt countries, facing repeated criticism from both the EU and the US over its inability to meet rule-of-law standards. The ongoing political turmoil was preceded by government graft scandals and months of anti-corruption protests, opening the path to a series of elections that put an end to Borissov’s rule, which lasted on and off for more than a decade. 

Petkov took office at the end of 2021, vowing to tackle corruption problems, but his government lasted less than eight months before it was toppled by one of his coalition partners. 

“Freezing the negotiations means that they can be unfrozen before we put an end,” Gabriel said, opening the path for further talks.

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