Soon after Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev called for ahead-of-term parliamentary elections to be held by the end of July, there was a clamour of voices denouncing this as effectively impossible given the requirements of the Bulgarian constitution and election law.
Given the procedural steps that must be followed, it appears likely that the date would be closer to the one suggested by centre-right opposition GERB, September 29, and likely before the late-November, early-December proposal from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
Practically, even were the government to resign immediately, elections could hardly be held before mid-August – hardly a popular choice with most parties given that it is peak summer holiday season in Bulgaria.
The first step after the government tables its resignation is that there must be a vote in the National Assembly to accept the resignation. In comparison to all the other steps that follow, this is about the simplest and likely to be the quickest.
Constitutionally, once the government has resigned, President Rossen Plevneliev – as head of state – must offer to the largest party in the National Assembly the opportunity to seek to form a cabinet.
That party is GERB. Constitutionally, it may hold on that mandate for seven days. The reality is likely to be different, for a number of reasons, among them that it was unable to form a government in May 2013. After this stage, Plevneliev must offer the mandate to the second-ranked party, the BSP and after that mandate is returned, he must offer it a third party, of his choice.
In the 42nd National Assembly, there would be only two parties left – the MRF and Ataka.
Of course, it may well prove that the timeframe of the handing and returning of mandates would not be the about three weeks theoretically possible under the constitution, but would be truncated by a ritual of swift handing-and-returning, as happened before the early parliamentary elections of 2013.
In turn, once it becomes clear that no party has formed a cabinet, the President dissolves the National Assembly and decrees a date for elections. This date is within the next 60 days.
The President also has to appoint a caretaker cabinet, the main task of which would be to take the country into elections. On its own, decisions on who would serve in that caretaker administration may not be the swiftest of processes, as was the case with the March 2013 interim cabinet.
At this stage, a number of provisions take effect, arising from the election law pushed through the National Assembly by the BSP in 2014. These provisions include a number of organisational measures referring to timeframes of 55 days before election day.
These issues are not just organisational but also logistical, such as the procurement of ballot papers and their distribution, including to missions abroad where voting will be held.
Even though Bulgaria has just held elections, for the European Parliament on May 25, and the Central Election Commission told the media on June 10 it was ready to hold elections, parliamentary elections would not just be a matter of copy-pasting all the arrangements of the European Parliament vote.