Covid-19: Bulgarian President vetoes State of Emergency measures bill

Written by on March 22, 2020 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Covid-19: Bulgarian President vetoes State of Emergency measures bill

Bulgarian President Roumen Radev said on March 22 that he was vetoing some provisions of the State of Emergency measures bill, passed by Parliament on March 20.

In a televised address, Radev did not list the specific clauses that he was asking MPs to reconsider, but appeared to criticise the bill for both going too far in some regards, and not far enough in others.

(UPDATE: Later in the day, the full veto motives were published on the presidency’s website, showing that the veto only referred to the freedom of speech and profiteering clauses in the bill.)

Radev did mention some of issues that he considered problematic, saying that the bill was “attacking the last remainders of free speech,” referring to the Penal Code amendments that punished spreading false information with heavy fines and prison terms.

Bulgarian laws can be amended directly or through transitional and final provisions of other laws – the bulk of the State of Emergency measures bill is comprised of such clauses that amend a number of laws already on the books, the Penal Code being just one.

The failure to define what was incorrect information would impose self-censorship and the clause could be used to “interpret any inconvenient free thinking,” Radev said. “And also very importantly, as passed in this bill, that restriction remains in place after the State of Emergency is lifted,” he said.

Radev said that profiteering should be fought, but measures in that sense should not hamper economic activity. “The proposed model of fighting profiteering makes practically impossible the import of life-saving medicine and products, the price of which is rising on the international markets,” Radev said.

The bill stipulates that retailers are required to sell goods at prices equal to the average for the three months prior to the State of Emergency being declared, as calculated using their own cash register history.

A retailer association criticised the clause on March 21, arguing that the restriction of free market would have the opposite effect to what was sought, leading to a deficit of goods and services, possible bankruptcies, increased profiteering and a decrease in tax revenue when the state budget needed it most.

Radev also said that any use of armed forces that gave them authority to use force beyond what was stipulated in the constitution should seek “the maximum consensus of all responsible institutions to minimise the risk of abuse, rather than give all decisional power to the executive branch, ignoring the role of the commander-in-chief,” he said.

The bill allows the use of armed forces to enforce State of Emergency measures – including ID checks and preventing the movement of persons, powers that are otherwise limited only to the police – a clause harshly criticised by the opposition socialists, but passed despite their objections.

Radev slammed the bill’s lack of stimulus measures to deal with the economic repercussions of the pandemic, saying that this “parallel crisis” was being ignored, but it was “throwing hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians into a tough fight to survive.”

“The lack of credible measures to support those affected will create social tension in the near future. Hunger will overcome fear and the repercussions risk being destructive, which is why the government should urgently review its policy towards those most affected,” he said.

Bulgaria’s constitution grants the head of state a limited power of veto, through enabling the President to return legislation to the National Assembly for further discussion. The National Assembly may overturn the President’s veto through a simple majority vote or accept the veto and review the vetoed clauses.

Since taking office in January 2017, Radev made liberal use of this power, his latest veto being the 20th, with Parliament overturning the veto in all but one case, when the provision in question was withdrawn. On several occasions, Radev has followed through with a Constitutional Court challenge, where he has been more successful in blocking legislation.

For the rest of The Sofia Globe’s continuing coverage of the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria, please click here.

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