Bulgarian Parliament’s legal affairs committee held hearings on February 21 to examine the nominations for the country’s Constitutional Court and asset forfeiture commission. There is one vacant seat on the Constitutional Court that has to be filled by Parliament, as well as three vacant positions on the asset forfeiture commission.
The nomination process to fill the vacant positions in the two institutions started some time ago – in the case of the vacant Constitutional Court seat, the saga goes back to last year. (Initially, Parliament elected Veneta Markovska to the job, but she never took office in the wake of allegations of corruption and conflict of interest, as reported by The Sofia Globe at the time.)
On February 11, just hours before the deadline for nominating candidates expired, Bulgaria’s ruling party GERB nominated Grozdan Iliev, deputy chairperson of the Supreme Court of Cassation. The deadline for holding a vote on his nomination is March 6, but that vote is now expected to be brought forth.
The reason is that the current legislature could be devolved as early as next week, given the statements of Bulgaria’s parliamentary-represented parties that they would refuse a mandate from President Rossen Plevneliev to form a government.
If three attempts to form a government fail, and all indications are that this is set to happen, Plevneliev is required by constitution to devolve Parliament and name a caretaker cabinet until snap elections are held.
This would once again delay the appointment of a Constitutional Court judge until after elections, raising questions about the court’s ability to render rulings if any constitutional challenge related to the elections is brought up and, indeed, questions about the legality of any such rulings.
Concerning the asset forfeiture commission, where Parliament has to appoint three of the five members (including the deputy chairperson), the deadline for appointments was February 19, but the MPs have missed it as parliamentary debates have been dominated by other issues – from public protests sparked by high electricity prices to the proposed Cabinet reshuffle and, lastly, the resignation of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov.
Last month, Borissov appointed former Deputy Justice Minister Plamen Dimitrov as chairperson of the asset forfeiture commission, but he cannot take office until the commission is fully staffed.
The European Union, which continues to monitor Bulgaria’s progress in judiciary reform and the fight against corruption, has long called for stronger efforts to seize assets acquired as a result of criminal activity. Last year, Parliament passed the Asset Forfeiture Act, which envisions the creation of the commission with further-reaching powers than that of its predecessor.
The three nominees heard by the legal affairs committee are Antoaneta Tsonkova (nominated by GERB), Ivo Ivanov and Stoyanka Nikolakova (nominated by the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms and Bulgarian Socialist Party, respectively).
(Bulgarian Parliament photo by Clive Leviev-Sawyer)