Bulgaria’s Parliament hastily amending laws in bid to resolve caretaker PM issue

Bulgaria’s Parliament hastily leapt into the process of amending laws on March 29 in a bid to resolve issues related to the process of the head of state appointing a caretaker Prime Minister.

Constitutional amendments approved by Parliament in 2023 created a limited list of candidates for the President to choose from in naming a caretaker head of government in the event of the failure of the process to come up with an elected government.

In naming a caretaker Prime Minister, the head of state must choose from among the Speaker of the National Assembly, the governor and deputy governor of central Bulgarian National Bank (BNB), the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman and head and deputy head of the Audit Office.

However, recent days have shown President Roumen Radev’s options to be limited, in fact and in law.

This is in part because the current Ombudsman, Diana Kovacheva, is about to leave office, while the Deputy Ombudsman, Elena Cherneva–Markova, this week submitted her resignation.

European and Bulgarian law bars the governor and deputy governors of BNB from holding political office, and were any to take up the post of caretaker PM, they would not be able to return to the bank after the caretaker government leaves office.

The picture with the Audit Office is similar. To be eligible to be the head or deputy head of the office, a candidate may not have served in government in the previous three years. The current two deputy heads of the Audit Office both are eligible for a second term, possible discouragement from accepting the post of caretaker PM.

With hardly any notice, on the afternoon of March 29 a meeting of Parliament’s legal affairs committee was convened, approving in about 10 minutes amendments to laws, changing the Bulgarian National Bank Act so that BNB governors can go on unpaid leave to serve as caretaker PM and removing the bar on holding political office.

Through amendments to the transitional and final provisions of the same law, similar rules were created for the Audit Office heads and the Ombudsman.

Immediately after the committee approved the amendments – tabled by MPs from GERB-UDF and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – they were taken to the House for a first reading.

The addition of the amendments to the National Assembly’s Order Paper of the day was supported by We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria.

Parliament voted to extend the hours of its sitting until the amendments were approved.

The events in Parliament took place as President Radev continued a succession of meetings with the incumbents of the offices listed in the constitution’s provisions on a caretaker PM.

While some of those with whom Radev had meetings on Thursday and Friday made no comments to the media, others signalled directly or indirectly their reluctance to be caretaker PM.

Asked if there is an option for him to fail to appoint a cabinet and for the outgoing government to remain in office, Radev replied that with such changes to the constitution, all kinds of pitfalls could appear.

“I will do my best to fulfill the requirements of the constitution, regardless of how bad these changes are,” he said.

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