Bulgaria’s ‘short parliament’ comes to an end

With the end of its special sitting on August 4, Bulgaria’s 42nd National Assembly passes into history having set a number of records – not least of which is that it was the shortest-lived Parliament in the country’s post-Zhivkov history.

One record that says much about the 42nd National Assembly was its spectacularly low approval rating.

Another that hardly bears counting is the number of times it was meant to sit but did not do so because of boycotts that deprived it of a quorum to begin.

Even when it did sit, it was frequently notable – especially during Question Time on Fridays – just how few MPs remained in the House. On occasion, they could be counted on the fingers of one hand, a mere fraction of the 240 members that the House has.

One leading symbol of this past Parliament is an empty House. Another is the thousands of anti-government protesters who so regularly gathered outside the building, shouting from beyond the heavy barriers to demand its departure.

There were MPs who defected from one party to another, MPs who spoke extensively (some might say far too much) and some who spoke not at all.

When the National Assembly first sat, on May 21, the numbers for the formal parliamentary groups were Boiko Borissov’s GERB 97, Sergei Stanishev’s Bulgarian Socialist Party-led “Coalition for Bulgaria” 83, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms 36 and Volen Siderov’s Ataka 23.

By the time Parliament is dissolved on August 6, to make way for the October 5 early parliamentary elections, GERB will be left with 94, the BSP (now under the leadership of Mihail Mikov, Speaker of the 42nd National Assembly) 83, the MRF will still have 36 and as for Ataka, two MPs formally left the group on the day that the legislature held its last sitting.

The overall reason for the departures from the respective parties was Nikolai Barekov’s populist and well-funded Bulgaria Without Censorship party, founded formally in 2013 as a sequel to Barekov’s televised roadshow. As the 42nd National Assembly sputtered and died, it remained an open question just how BWC would last on the national political scene, as its own fortunes seemed diminished.

For the record, from its first sitting on May 21 2013 to the last, 27 MPs did not address the House. Of these, 10 were from the BSP, 10 from GERB, three from the MRF, three of the “independents” and one from Ataka.

The most locquacious was Maya Manolova of the BSP, who also occupied one of the deputy speaker’s chair and as the 42nd National Assembly headed for its demise, mounted a failed bid to succeed Stanishev as leader of the BSP. In all, Manolova talked for 21 hours, 52 minutes and 21 second and made 672 speeches, according to an NGO that independently monitors parliamentary performances.

Second in the talkfest stakes was the head of the budgetary committee, Yordan Tsonev of the MRF (21 hours, 38 minutes and 26 seconds), followed by his party leader Lyutvi Mestan (10 hours, nine minutes, 42 second). Mestan made just 124 speeches, but they tended to the verbose.

Much more sparing with words – or, for that matter, turning up to sit in the House – was GERB leader Borissov, who spent just an hour, 24 minutes and 51 seconds sharing his thoughts with MPs from the speaker’s podium. However, Borissov tended to be available to speak to reporters in the corridors.

Siderov and Stanishev spoke for about the same length of time, close to seven hours. Effectively, neither was there for the duration.

Siderov led his Ataka party in a boycott of proceedings in the final weeks of the National Assembly, with the extent that the utterances of him and his cohorts having been missed remaining a matter of opinion. Stanishev left to take up his MEP seat, breaking his promise that he would not.

But then, a difference between Siderov and Stanishev may be pointed out, among several other differences. Stanishev was not photographed arriving at the House wearing a firearm. In turn, Ataka could be said to have unique interpretations of the decorum appropriate to an MP, especially after Dimitar Chukulov was photographed, while travelling by car away from the building, showing his middle finger to anti-government protesters.

Some MPs will have claims to records as having the shortest terms of office. Tsonka Ivanova of GERB, sworn in during one of the last sittings, recorded all of 15 hours of attendance.

In all, the 42nd National Assembly lasted just 442 days, counting to the day of its dissolution by decree, of which for 417 the building was the backdrop to heavy barriers and cordons of police.

Unlike other parliaments of the recent past decades, it had a vacancy for a deputy speaker throughout its life, after GERB declined to take up this post, to which custom entitled it. The 42nd National Assembly also saw a change in the deputy speaker’s seats, as the MRF’s Hristo Bisserov abruptly departed, shortly before it emerged that he was under investigation in connection with serious criminal charges, including money laundering and embezzlement (Bisserov denies the charges).

After June 2013, perhaps the rarest sight of all was Delyan Peevski, controversially chosen with the votes of the BSP and MRF to head the State Agency for National Security. Though this election was rescinded amid public protests, two challenges in the Constitutional Court that Peevski was no longer an MP because he had taken the oath as SANS head failed. In spite of the decision that he was an MP, Peevski was not seen again in the House.

Or it may be said that given how he came to be the symbol of all that prompted the protests, perhaps in the end the case was that the House was not seen again because of Peevski.

The final legacy of the 42nd National Assembly may be those items of legislation that it approved, through the votes of the ruling axis – the Interior Ministry Act, the Electoral Act, the National Audit Office Act, among others – where the same ruling axis rallied to override a succession of presidential vetoes.

Depending on the outcome of the October 5 elections, among the first orders of business of the 43rd National Assembly may be rescinding significant parts of the legislation approved by the 42nd.



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.