Two candidates have been nominated for the post of Ombudsman of Bulgaria, with a new term of office beginning in October.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has nominated one of its MPs, Maya Manolova, while the Reformist Bloc, a minority partner in the centre-right coalition cabinet, has put forward incumbent Konstantin Penchev for a further term of office.
Notably, no nomination was made by Parliament’s largest party and the senior partner in government, Boiko Borissov’s GERB, which nominated Penchev for his first term of office in 2010.
There have been indications that the nomination of Manolova, a 50-year-old from the town of Kyustendil who graduated in economics and law from the University of National and World Economy (formerly the Karl Marx Higher Institute of Economics), is part of a deal as the government seeks support from parties for its constitutional changes aimed at reforming the judiciary.
Atanas Merdzhanov, deputy head of the BSP parliamentary group, insisted that Manolova was the “most prominent lawyers” in the Bulgarian Parliament, a person with very broad contacts, active in many causes in the interests of Bulgarian citizens and a “successful communicator with representatives of civil society”.
Manolova was one of the deputy speakers of the now-departed 42nd National Assembly, the term of which was terminated early after May 2014 European Parliament elections saw a swingeing defeat for the BSP, then the mandate-holder in the ruling axis, and after widely-supported public protests that demanded the resignation of the “Oresharski” cabinet.
She was a popular figure for lampooning by anti-government protesters, among other things for her attempt early on in the events of summer 2013 to try to talk to the protesters.
A Facebook group has been set up opposing Manolova’s nomination, which by July 16 had 3434 “likes”.
Merdzhanov told reporters on July 15 that he expected support from other parliamentary groups for the Manolova nomination, and the fact that there had been no other candidate by that point, the day of the deadline for nominations, was “sufficiently eloquent and persuasive” regarding the nomination.
However, in the final hours before the deadline, the Reformist Bloc said that it was nominating Penchev for a second term as ombudsman.
A day earlier, Penchev told Bulgarian National Radio that he did not expect to be nominated for a second term, and also rejected claims that he had been offered a seat on the Constitutional Court as a trade-off for his time as Ombudsman coming to a close.
The Reformist Bloc move was seen as surprising, given that some figures in the bloc had indicated that they would be prepared to support Manolova’s candidacy. Media reports noted that Minister of Justice Hristo Ivanov, part of the bloc’s quota in the cabinet, had signalled support for Manolova while engaging with the BSP to secure that party’s support for the judicial reform plan.
Penchev’s term expires on October 20, and by law the post should be filled by election by secret ballot in the National Assembly two months ahead of that date, August 20.
The winning candidate will be decided by gaining 50 per cent plus one of the votes of MPs.
The Ombudsman Act defines the post as an independent one, defending the rights and freedoms of citizens when they have been prejudiced or violated by action or inaction by the state or municipal bodies and their administrations, as well as those entrusted to provide public services.
The Ombudsman must be a Bulgarian citizen with higher education, meet the requirements to be eligible to be an MP and must have “high integrity”. The term of office is five years, and an incumbent may be elected to the same office for only one term.