Bulgarian Socialist Party MP Maya Manolova was elected the country’s new national Ombudsman by MPs on July 30, with 129 votes, defeating incumbent Konstantin Penchev who got 82 votes.
Manolova had been nominated by her party and Penchev, in office since 2010, was nominated by the Reformist Bloc, the centre-right coalition that is a minority partner in the government.
Voting was by secret ballot. Ahead of the vote, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, leader of the parliamentary group of GERB, Parliament’s largest party and the majority partner in government, said that the party’s MPs would vote “according to their conscience”.
At the time several weeks ago that Manolova, a lawyer from the town of Kyustendil, was nominated, there were reports that she would win backing as part of a deal by which the opposition BSP would support constitutional amendments intended to spur judicial reform. However, when it came to the vote on the amendments, the BSP did not support them.
The nomination of Penchev by the Reformist Bloc came just a few hours before the deadline for lodging candidacies.
From within GERB, there were public misgivings about Manolova. Senior GERB MP and head of Parliament’s committee on the budget and finance, Menda Stoyanova, said that Manolova could win the support of men but not women in Parliament.
“We cannot forget the actions of Mrs Manolova in the previous parliament,” Stoyanova said, referring to the 2013/14 National Assembly in which Manolova was one of the deputy presiding officers at the time of the now-departed ruling axis of the BSP and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
Stoyanova said that the “Kostinbrod affair” was the work of Manolova – a reference to a supposed but unproven attempt at ballot-cheating in the 2013 elections, in which Manolova was among those who pointed fingers at GERB.
“I would be surprised if GERB or some of them have forgotten,” Stoyanova said.
Presenting Manolova’s candidacy in Parliament ahead of the vote, BSP leader Mihail Mikov said that she had been an MP in the ruling majority and in opposition and had seen “one and the other side of government”.
According to Mikov, Manolova was “very active in protecting the rights of citizens” and was “independent”.
Presenting Penchev’s candidacy, Korman Ismailov, deputy head of the parliamentary group of the Reformist Bloc, said that Penchev was a successful Ombudsman, an experience lawyer and had reached the heights of the judiciary because of his professional and personal qualities, had maintained a good name and had proven his balance and dedication to work.
Ismailov said that Penchev’s reports as Ombudsman had been adopted with the full support and approval of how he ran the institution.
While the ballot was secret, media reports ahead of the vote said that Manolova would get votes from MPs for GERB, the BSP, Patriotic Front, Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and far-right ultra-nationalists Ataka.
In 2014, after the resignation of Sergei Stanishev as BSP leader after the latest in a succession of election defeats, Manolova was a failed candidate to succeed him, losing to Mikov.
Outside the walls of Parliament, apart from a well-supported Facebook group opposing the nomination of Manolova as Ombudsman, public criticism of the move has been aired in recent times, for example by Petko Georgiev, a journalist who appeared in debate on the political season in public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television’s weekly Referendum programme.
Speaking two days ahead of the vote in Parliament, Georgiev said that it had been Manolova who had described anti-government protesters as being in a form of temporary unemployment.
Manolova was referring to allegations – which through all the many months of the protests against the “Oresharski” government remained unproven – that anti-government protesters were paid.
Georgiev asked how such a person could be defend the interests of civil society.
Soon after news broke of Manolova’s election as Ombudsman, a public protest was announced for 7.30pm on July 30 outside the National Assembly building.
(Photo of Manolova: bsp.bg)