Bulgaria’s caretaker govt, President continue damage control attempts in controversy over bill on voting rights

The blame game is continuing in a controversy about draft legislation posted on the Bulgarian Justice Ministry website that envisaged effectively refusing the franchise to citizens in presidential and parliamentary elections if they had not been resident in the country for at least three months before the vote.

The draft legislation, which was patently unconstitutional, was repudiated by the ministry, which blamed an official for putting it there – alleging he had done so to embarrass the ministry – and fired him.

The controversy deepened when it was claimed that the initiative for the draft legislation came from within the President’s office. Bulgaria’s constitution gives the head of state no role in initiating legislation.

The dismissed official, Lyubomir Talev, claimed that he had not acted alone, saying that the draft amendments to the Bulgarian Citizenship Act and the Electoral Code had been posted after being discussed at a meeting at which President Roumen Radev was present.

Bulgarian media showed documentation claiming that the author of the document was Emilia Drumeva, Radev’s legal affairs secretary.

Political reaction has been widespread, even from those politically close to Radev. Bulgarian Socialist Party MP Kristian Vigenin said that it was not the business of the caretaker cabinet to resolve issues of electoral legislation. Radev’s vice-president, Iliyana Yoteva, distanced herself from the draft legislation, saying that laws were decided in the Bulgarian Parliament. She called on the Justice Ministry to clarify who had initiated the draft legislation on introducing a domicile requirement.

Radev, in an evening statement on April 6, broke his silence of several days.

He noted that the tension surrounding the amendments had escalated in recent days.

Radev said that there had been growing attempts to interfere in Bulgaria’s election process. He was referring to claims of Turkish interference ahead of Bulgaria’s March 26 parliamentary elections.

Political parties had made “radical proposals” in response, such as abolishing dual citizenship, but – Radev said, in a sideswipe against Bulgaria’s parties – had “turned away from the topic” after the election.

“I stated at the very start of my term in office that I will not stay silent and idle when Bulgaria’s sovereignty is concerned,” Radev said.

The issue could be solved only by laws which ensure “both the constitutional rights of Bulgarian ctizens and the security and independence of the state,” he said.

Radev said that “the President does not submit bill, but that does not mean that he is not compassionate and responsible regarding issues particularly important to society and national security”.

The role of Radev in the saga has been seized on by political rivals. Tsvetan Tsvetanov, deputy leader of Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party – which was defeated at socialist-backed Radev’s hands in 2016 but triumphed over the BSP in the 2017 elections – said that Radev was trying to transform Bulgaria into a presidential republic instead of a parliamentary one.

GERB’s Ekaterina Zaharieva, formerly justice minister in the second Borissov government and who was been elected as an MP, said that if she became justice minister in the new government, she would re-appoint Talev to his post.

“It is absurd to sack a manager that is performing his duties,” Zaharieva said. She said that many of the clauses of the draft legislation were unconstitutional and this was why everyone was denying authorship.

The proposed amendments were a big blunder. “An even bigger mistake was to shirk responsibility for several days regarding the authorship of the texts,” Zaharieva said.

On the morning of April 7, deputy justice minister Denitsa Mitrova made a brief statement, repeating the claim that Talev was solely responsible for posting online the draft proposed amendments and alleging that he had done this to “undermine the prestige” of the ministry.

Mitrova said that the draft amendments had been written by legal experts at the ministry and agreed with the legal council of the President.




Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.