Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted on November 11 to agree to the arrest of Ataka’s Volen Siderov and Dessislav Chukolov in connection with criminal charges arising from their October 25 intrusion on students at the National Academy of Film and Theatre Arts in Sofia.
The vote to consent to the Prosecutor-General’s request to arrest Siderov and Chukolov was 124 in favour, 19 against and with 14 abstentions.
Siderov and Chukolov, at the centre of a series of rowdy incidents in the centre of Sofia that have resulted in requests from the Prosecutor-General to proceed against them, earlier voluntarily gave up their immunity from prosecution in connection with the confrontation at the theatre academy.
This emerged on November 11 at the start of the day’s sitting of the National Assembly, which was scheduled to vote on a recommendation by an all-party parliamentary committee to agree to the removal of their immunity and consent to their arrest.
Speaker of the National Assembly Tsetska Tsacheva said that the two Ataka MPs had deposited at the registry of Parliament their written consent to the removal of their immunity regarding the national theatre academy case, which took place on October 25.
The incident at the theatre academy was one of two, the first on Friday, the second on Sunday. In the second case, the intrusion by the two in the theatres building and their clashes with students and the rector of the academy resulted in large numbers of police having to escort Siderov from the scene, as a crowd outraged by his antics had gathered in the street outside.
With Siderov and Chukolov having consented to the removal of their immunity, it was left to Parliament only to vote on whether to agree to their arrest.
Siderov, who like Chukolov denies wrongdoing, said in a letter that neither was “hiding from justice”.
The Ataka party leader said that he had appeared in public for the November 10 meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security and had been to the headquarters of the investigative service.
The same day, Siderov and Chukolov were formally charged in connection with an incident earlier in October at a late-night liquor and cigarette shop. They face charges of hooliganism and assaulting a police officer.
The Siderov incidents have led GERB, Parliament’s largest party, to initiate talks on changing the constitution to limit the current blanket provision of immunity to MPs to only when members of the National Assembly are in the House. Parliament also has voted to cut back from 14 days to five the timeframe for MPs to voluntarily relinquish their immunity if the Prosecutor-General tables a request for its removal.
In Bulgaria’s 240-seat National Assembly, the unicameral Parliament, Ataka is one of the two smallest parliamentary groups, with 11 MPs. The pro-Russian party drew a mere three per cent or less of votes in Bulgaria’s October-November 2015 mayoral and municipal elections.
In the early parliamentary elections of October 2014, its 11 seats won were down from the 21 it won in the early parliamentary elections of May 2013.
In Bulgaria’s European Parliament elections of May 2014, Siderov’s Ataka ranked bottom among political parties with representation at national level, getting less than three per cent of the vote and winning no MEP seats.