The We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria coalition, the second-largest parliamentary group and the government mandate-holder, presented its proposed amendments to the constitution at a news conference on July 23.
The presentation involved the leaders of the constituent parties of the coalition, Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, and representatives of the Justice for All initiative, who were consulted on the proposed amendments.
Two key thrusts in the proposed amendments are ending prosecutorial arbitrariness and ending the feudalisation of local government.
The proposals include reducing the term of office of the Prosecutor-General – which currently is seven years – and limiting the powers of the office.
The amendments envisage restructuring the Supreme Judicial Council and the establishment of a separate prosecutor’s council.
They also envisage reforming the institution of the caretaker government, introducing a standard for the selection of the heads of regulators, and introducing term limits for municipal mayors.
A further proposal is to be enable every citizen to lodge applications to the Constitutional Court. Currently, the constitution confers this ability on a limited number of state office-bearers and a proportion of members of the National Assembly.
The amendments proposed changing the date of Bulgaria’s national day from March 3 to May 24.
The current March 3 date is linked to the battle of Shipka in the war of Liberation from the Ottoman empire, and long has been a vehicle for Russophilia. May 24, a universally acclaimed date in Bulgaria, celebrates Saints Cyril and Methodius and Bulgarian education, literature and culture.
Democratic Bulgaria co-leader Hristo Ivanov said that the amendments were the result of a long-term effort agreed by the WCC-DB parties at various levels in Parliament in recent months with their colleagues from GERB-UDF and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and said that there was a “high degree of consensus” between the three groups.
WCC co-leader Kiril Petkov said that the main thing about the changes was to end the use of the Prosecutor’s Office as a “cudgel” and to give more independence to judges.
Petkov said that the proposal to move the national day to May 24 was to bring to the fore the idea that Bulgaria gave enlightenment to a large part of Europe.
DB co-leader Atanas Atanassov said that the constitutional amendments would become the main task of the current Parliament.
Atanassov said that Bulgaria’s current constitution (adopted on July 12 1991) was drafted at a time when the former communists dominated the Grand National Assembly and left their mark on some of its elements, such as the centralised system of the Prosecutor’s Office.
He said that the idea of term limits for mayors was to make it match that of the President, of two terms.
Justice Minister Atanas Slavov said that the proposal was to divide the Supreme Judicial Council into judicial and prosecutors’ divisions.
The Council of Judges would have 15 members. Eight would be elected by the judges themselves and six by Parliament, but with the stipulation that this should not be a political quota, but should be drawn from authoritative lawyers from outside the judiciary. The presidents of Bulgaria’s two supreme courts would be members ex officio.
The aim was for judges to have the majority in their own council, Slavov said. The term of office would be reduced from five to four years.
The proposals also include reducing the terms of office of the presidents of the two supreme courts from seven to five years and that their status be equal to that of all other judges elected to the council.
The idea is that the President would not have the right to decree their appointment and dismissal, as is the case now, so that there is no direct political interference in the process of appointing top members of the bench.
In the prosecutors council, the principle of its composition would be the exact opposite. The parliamentary quota would be larger than that of the prosecutors, so that the Prosecutor’s Office could not determine its leaders by itself.
Six of its members would be elected by the National Assembly with a two-thirds majority, two from the prosecutors, one from the investigators, and the Prosecutor-General would be a member ex officio. The Minister of Justice would chair the council, without the right to vote.
The coalition has abandoned its earlier idea of the Minister of Justice solely nominating the Prosecutor-General. The idea now is that both the prosecutors council and the Justice Minister would propose a candidate, so that there is competition and no accusations of political interference.
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