Bulgaria’s Parliament to hold special sitting after Gabriel officially refuses to be PM

The Speaker of Bulgaria’s National Assembly Rosen Zhelyazkov has convened a special sitting of Parliament, to be held on March 26 at 10am, after GERB-UDF Prime Minister-designate Maria Gabriel officially notified the legislature that she was refusing to be elected PM and to propose a government.

A statement on Parliament’s website said that the only item on the Order Paper was debate on a draft decision in connection with the presidential decree of March 19 – which forwarded to Parliament the “fulfilment” of the mandate held by Gabriel to seek to form a government – and Gabriel’s March 25 letter declining the mandate.

Gabriel announced at a March 24 news conference that she was abandoning the mandate, putting the blame on We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria, with which GERB-UDF had been holding on-and-off talks on a bid to form a government.

Outgoing Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov responded with a televised call to GERB-UDF to resume negotiations, to stave off early parliamentary elections.

Denkov proposed that the “rotation” be confined to he and Gabriel switching seats.

On March 25, there was no immediate indication that GERB-UDF would respond positively to Denkov’s call.

The Bulgarian Parliament voting on a refusal by a PM-designate is not unprecedented.

In 2021, ITN returned its mandate to seek to form a government as fulfilled, but then its PM-designate, Plamen Nikolov, withdrew his consent, citing a lack of support from other parliamentary groups. This resulted in Parliament voting that the first mandate had ended unsuccessfully.

In the events of 2024, once Parliament votes that the first mandate has ended unsuccessfully, the next stage will be President Roumen Radev offering the second mandate to WCC-DB, as Parliament’s second-largest group.

The media office of the presidency told Bulgarian National Radio on Monday that Radev would await Parliament’s decision before proceeding to the next stage laid down in the constitution regarding bids to form a government.

There has been no current public announcement from WCC-DB what it intends to do regarding the second mandate – to immediately return it unfulfilled or to try to negotiate a government.

Denkov said last week that if the first mandate failed, the second one would have no chance either.

At the third-mandate stage, the head of state has a free hand to decide to which parliamentary group to hand the mandate. The remaining four parliamentary groups all have said that they would not seek to form a government and instead want early parliamentary elections.

After the most recent changes to the constitution, in the event of the failure of all three mandates, the National Assembly is not dissolved and may continue to sit. Previously, the constitution provided that once the mandate-handing process has failed, Parliament is dissolved, a caretaker government appointed and a date for elections decreed by the head of state.

The current version of the constitution provides that, once the mandate-handing process has failed, the president appoints a caretaker PM – from a limited range of officials named in the constitution – and sets a date for an election to be held within two months of the end of the mandate-handing process.

The time for holding early parliamentary elections together with Bulgaria’s European Parliament elections, scheduled for June 9, is running out, constitutional law professor Nataliya Kiselova told bTV on March 25.

Kiselova said that if the next rescheduled parliamentary elections are in the summer, they will most likely be on a date other than June 9.

For early parliamentary elections to be held “two-in-one” with Bulgaria’s European Parliament elections, the mandate-handing process would have to reach the point of failure on April 9.

(Photo: parliament.bg)

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