The process to appoint a new line-up of the Bulgarian Commission for Protection of Competition has suffered a setback on March 9, after the sole nominee for commission chief withdrew from the proceedings.
Rossen Zhelyazkov, nominated by the senior partner in the ruling coalition, GERB, said during the hearing by the Parliament’s economic affairs committee that he was dropping out. His withdrawal is expected to effectively reset the process as he was the only nominee to head the commission, but Bulgarian National Radio reported that the proceedings were not formally cancelled, with the economic and legal affairs committees of Parliament due to meet and reach a decision on how to proceed.
Zhelyazkov said that it was his own decision and that he wanted to avoid winning “by default”, but at the same time had no doubts about his own qualifications for the job.
A former chief secretary to the Council of Ministers in the previous cabinet of prime minister Boiko Borissov, Zhelyazkov is best known as the only official to be indicted in the so-called “Kostinbrod affair”, when prosecutors raided the printing house that printed the ballot papers for the May 2013 election, and found 350 000 allegedly illegal ballot papers.
The raid led to a media and political storm the day before the national parliamentary elections, with the focus on the printing house owner’s ties to Borissov’s GERB party, while GERB’s political opponents claimed that the extra ballots were meant to be used in an attempt to defraud the elections. Zhelyazkov was exonerated on charges of criminal misconduct in a trial that concluded last year.
The term of the current commission line-up expired in October 2015, with the issue of the new appointments becoming a hot topic in recent days, when MPs from the Reformist Bloc parliamentary group accused GERB of striking a backroom deal with the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms and populist Bulgarian Democratic Centre on the future line-up of the regulator.
The accusations came from the Reformist Bloc camp that declared its opposition to the Borissov cabinet after the passage of constitutional amendments on judiciary reform last year, when it claimed that GERB give in to changes that weakened the reform proposals. (The centre-right Reformist Bloc coalition is almost evenly split, with 13 MPs backing the government and 10 in opposition.)