Krassimir Vlahov, the former deputy head of Bulgaria’s Supreme Court of Cassation, was elected by Parliament on October 5 to take a seat on the country’s Constitutional Court, but the pick once again prompted a heated exchange between the government coalition and the opposition.
Vlahov was the only candidate for the seat and was confirmed by a vote of 127 MPs in favour, from four out of five political groups in the National Assembly, and 55 abstentions, all by opposition socialists.
Before the vote, speaking to Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), the deputy socialist floor leader Kroum Zarkov did not question Vlahov’s qualifications for the job, but described his appointment as predetermined by a behind-the-scenes agreement between GERB, the senior partner in the ruling coalition, and opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) to back his nomination.
“The nomination of judge Vlahov is a convincing one and I am not afraid to say it, but that does not mean that it has to be supported. We must look at the process in its entirety,” he said.
The socialists had planned to nominate Yanaki Stoilov, a former deputy party leader who spent 24 years as an MP in seven legislatures and the grand national assembly in 1990/91, which re-wrote Bulgaria’s constitution after the fall of communism.
Stoilov withdrew from the race saying he had no intention to participate in a “fixed match,” a decision that was lambasted by GERB floor leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov during the debate that preceded the vote.
“The absence of a competitive element that you are talking about is because you are lacking a suitable candidate, since you wanted to name a party nominee, Yanaki Stoilov, whom I respect as a member of parliament,” Tsvetanov said, as quoted by BNR.
Vlahov, 46, becomes one of the youngest judges ever elected to the Constitutional Court, with a track record that includes senior positions in two of Bulgaria’s most important courts – he is the former head of the Sofia District Court and former deputy head of the Supreme Court of Cassation.
His quick promotion through the ranks has drawn some criticism in the past, with accusations that he was picked ahead of judges with more seniority than him.
Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court has 12 sitting judges, appointed for nine-year terms, without an option for a second one. They are appointed by all three branches of government – four by Parliament, four by the president and four by the joint assembly of Bulgaria’s two high courts, the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court.
Every three years, four judges are replaced – this year, this includes one judge appointed by Parliament (Tsanka Tsankova), two elected by their fellow judges (Roumen Nenkov and Stefka Stoeva) and one appointed by the president (Keti Markova).
A general assembly of the judges in Bulgaria’s two high courts to elect the new Constitutional Court judges has been called for October 26, with the presidency is yet to name its appointee. The terms of the four sitting judges expires on November 12.
(Krassimir Vlahov photo: parliament.bg)