Bulgaria’s Parliament approved on December 19 the second of three readings of constitutional amendments regarding the restructuring of the judiciary, curtailing the powers of the head of state in appointing a caretaker government, and allowing members of Parliament and the Cabinet to hold dual citizenship.
The amendments, voted on clause-by-clause as is standard for a second-reading stage, were approved at the special sitting by MPs from We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria, GERB-UDF and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
Minority parties Vuzrazhdane and ITN boycotted the sitting, saying that they would challenge the amendments in the Constitutional Court, while the Bulgarian Socialist Party participated in the sitting, opposing the changes.
The amendments reduce the power of the Prosecutor-General and reduce the term of office from seven to five years, while eliminating a previous proposal that would have allowed a further term of office.
The heads of the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court may serve a single term of seven years.
The amendments divide the Supreme Judicial Council into two bodies, a Supreme Judicial Council with 15 members, and a Supreme Prosecutor’s Council with 10 members, six of them elected by the National Assembly.
The Prosecutor-General and Deputy Prosecutor-General are subject to investigation by a prosecutor who has held the office of a judge on the criminal bench of the supreme court, or the rank of judge in a supreme court from the criminal divisions of the courts of appeal or district courts. Further details are to be provided in the Judiciary Act.
The Prosecutor-General is appointed and dismissed by the head of state following a proposal by the Supreme Prosecutor’s Council.
Three of the members of the Supreme Judicial Council, as well as the Minister of Justice, may nominate candidates for the position of Prosecutor-General.
The presidential decree on the appointment should be issued within seven days. In the event of failure to issue the decree within this time limit, the appointment is deemed to have taken effect. The head of state may not refuse the appointment and dismissal in the face of a repeated proposal.
Prosecutors and investigators are appointed, promoted, demoted, transferred and dismissed by the Prosecutors Council, while in the case of judges, these decisions are in the hands of the Supreme Judicial Council.
The National Assembly elects its quotas of members of the Supreme Judicial Council and the Supreme Prosecutors Council with a majority of two-thirds of MPs.
The elected members of the Supreme Judicial Council and the Supreme Prosecutors Council have a term of office of four years, with a bar to immediate re-election on expiry of this term.
The version of the amendments voted at second reading represent a change to the list of office-bearers from among whom the head of state may choose a caretaker prime minister.
The previous version was that the choice would be from among the Speaker of the National Assembly, the governor of central Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) and the president of the Supreme Court of Cassation.
As adopted, the list now is the Speaker of the National Assembly, the governor or deputy governor of BNB, the head or deputy head of the National Audit Office, and the Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman.
The main task of a caretaker government will be to organise fair and free elections, while the constitutional amendments, as approved, make provision for future legislation to define the powers of a caretaker government.
The amendments change the current Article 99 of the constitution, which provides that in the event of no government being formed, the President shall appoint a caretaker government, dissolve the National Assembly and schedule new elections.
The amendments delete the words “dissolve the National Assembly” and add “a two-month period” for the date on which new parliamentary elections would be held.
Regular parliamentary elections may be held no later than one month before the expiry of a current Parliament’s term of office. The period in which Parliament would not sit ahead of a parliamentary election is cut from two months to one.
MPs approved an amendment that will allow Bulgarian citizens who additionally hold the citizenship of another country to be elected as MPs with the proviso that they must have been resident in Bulgaria for the past 18 months. The current constitution provides that candidate MPs may have no citizenship other than Bulgarian.
The amendments allow Cabinet ministers to be holders of a citizenship in addition to their Bulgarian citizenship, without the residency requirement applicable to election as MPs.
While Parliament’s Order Paper for the remainder of the week has not been made public, pending it being voted on at the start of the regular sitting scheduled for December 20 to 22, it is informally expected that the third-reading vote on the constitutional amendments may be held on December 20.