Bulgaria’s Minister of Justice Hristo Ivanov says that there are no “diametric differences” between him and Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov, adding that the public protests of July 14 were a clear signal of the public wanting judicial reform.
Ivanov was speaking to reporters the day after a large-scale public protest in Sofia demanding the resignation of Tsatsarov and in support of judicial reform. The same evening saw a “counter-protest”, much smaller but also billed as being in favour of judicial reform, demanding Ivanov’s resignation.
In office since August 2014 as part of the caretaker cabinet of the time, Ivanov continued in his post as Justice Minister when the coalition government took office in November, and is a key figure in cabinet efforts to get constitutional changes approved to reform the workings of the Supreme Judicial Council and the judiciary.
The July 14 protest was part of a campaign calling for a sufficient number of MPs – 160 out of 240 members of Bulgaria’s National Assembly – to get the constitutional changes underway.
The saga of the attempted reforms has been portrayed, apart from the differences among political parties, as a standoff between Ivanov and Tsatsarov, who has been in office since December 2012.
In turn, the Supreme Judicial Council has been sharply critical of Ivanov, with at least some of its members wanting his dismissal by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov.
Ahead of the July 14 protest, Tsatsarov rejected calls for his resignation.
Ivanov said that the “dialogue” that was going on in the media was not between him and Tsatsarov or between him and the Supreme Judicial Council, but with Bulgarian society.
He said that the demonstrations in front of the Palace of Justice on July 14 were a signal that there should be a clearer demonstration of the will to reform and a more focused debate on the arguments and counter-arguments.
Ivanov said that apparently there were people who were not interested in change, but he added that it was “not healthy” to think that there was a co-ordinated attack against the reform.
On July 15, he opened a discussion on the judicial inspectorate and the reforms regarding it envisaged in draft amendments to the Judiciary Act.
The amendments, if approved, would expand the powers of the inspectorate, creating a special administration to check for inaccuracies in property declarations by members of the judiciary and to check for conflicts of interest.
He said that consideration was being given to using special softward that would automatically compare the data with other records and find any discrepancies.
Ivanov said that requests for resignations were part of the normal democratic process, the reaction of people to the fact that ultimately, there was a failure to construct a clear political perspective of what was happening, what was not happening, and why.
“We are bogged down in something in between, which easily is presented as interpersonal exchanges of remarks, and that is a problem,” Ivanov said.
“I would like, of course, to thank the people who express their support, but I also want to thank the people who though they want my resignation, also declared themselves in favour of judicial reform, regardless of why they were there or not,” he said.
There was a clear sign that the public wanted changes in the judiciary, Ivanov said, adding that the bad thing was that “obviously, we have not succeeded to broadcast sufficiently clear determination about these changes and this makes people nervous and makes them react”.
Borissov, who has expressed backing for Ivanov, said on July 14 that pin all the disputes over judicial reform on personality conflicts seemed “stupid, wrong, unnecessary” and as if someone wanted judicial reform to stumble.