A week, to the day, after Parliament passed controversial amendments to the Judiciary Act that have been harshly criticised both domestically and from abroad, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said he would ask President Rossen Plevneliev to veto the law and return it to Parliament.
The amendments contained a number of controversial provisions – extending the period for electing the country’s chief prosecutor and advancing the outgoing members of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) upon completing their terms, among others.
Both provisions were strongly opposed by NGOs and even the judges union because the current SJC has repeatedly raised eyebrows with its questionable appointment decisions, while several members of the council were involved in an influence-peddling row in 2009, but were later acquitted and their mild punishments revoked.
Including the “career advancement bonus” provision – defended by ruling party MPs as a way to make up for time that magistrates will lose for serving on the council – to many looked as a way to reward poor performance with improved job prospects.
Along similar lines, the decision to extend the election of the chief prosecutor would give the current SJC the opportunity to do so. Boris Velchev’s term expires in February 2013 and the new amendments envision the election of his successor to begin six months prior to that deadline, meaning that the current SJC, whose term runs out in October, might have a big say in the early selection of candidates.
Ruling party GERB also ignored repeated calls from the European Commission, NGOs and the judges union to institute a direct vote in the election of the SJC members, arguing that it was impossible to gather Bulgaria’s more than 5000 magistrates in one place at once. Instead, the amendments envisioned that one delegate would be elected for each five magistrates, but these representatives would not have to take into account their voters’ preferences when casting a ballot in the SJC elections.
Borissov said on June 14 that he disagreed with the first two provisions – career advancement for outgoing SJC members and opening the door for the current council to elect the next chief prosecutor – even though the amendments, according to reports in Bulgarian media, had been agreed at the highest level of the ruling party, whose leader Borissov is.
Asked why the party put forth the amendments in the first place, if he was now morally opposed to them, Borissov said that the issue had been debated, with numerous arguments in favour and against the legislative changes.
(Photo of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov by European People’s Party)