Bulgaria’s political crisis: Speed-dating and hasty legislating

In a controversial move, Bulgaria’s Parliament approved on March 29 the first reading of amendments to laws to attempt to resolve difficulties in the appointment of a caretaker Prime Minister.

The amendments are intended to make it possible for the governor or deputy governor of central Bulgarian National Bank (BNB), the head or deputy heads of the Audit Office or the Ombudsman or Deputy Office to take unpaid leave to serve as caretaker PM and to enable them to return to their post after leaving office as head of government, to return to serve out the remainder of the term at the institution from which they were drafted.

Tabled without notice, amendments went through the legal affairs committee first-reading stage in a matter of minutes, and then were put to the House.

The amendments, tabled by GERB-UDF and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, were approved with 137 votes in favour.

An initial proposal by GERB-UDF to proceed to the second-reading stage at the same sitting was withdrawn, and instead a proposal was accepted to reduce the time until the second reading to three days, implying a vote on April 3.

This unfolded while President Roumen Radev was concluding a rapid succession of meetings with holders of the offices listed in the constitution – as amended in 2023 – as eligible for appointment as caretaker PM.

On March 28, after the failure of the process for a government to be elected, Radev held talks individually with National Assembly Speaker Rossen Zhelyazkov, BNB governor Dimitar Radev and National Audit Office head Dimitar Glavchev.

GERB-UDF leader Boiko Borissov has called on Radev not to appoint Zhelyazkov or Glavchev as caretaker PM, on the grounds that appointing an individual closely linked to his party would expose it to criticism in regard to the caretaker government’s principal role, the organising of elections. However, nothing in law obliges Radev to heed Borissov’s call.

On March 29, Radev held talks with Ombudsman Diana Kovacheva, BNB deputy governors Petar Chobanov, Radoslav Milenkov and Andrey Gyurov, and Audit Office deputy heads Toshko Todorov and Goritsa Grancharova-Kozhareva.

Kovacheva said that she could not be caretaker PM given that she is about to take up a seat on the European Court of Human Rights and would next week submit her resignation as Ombudsman.

Should Parliament rapidly – though it appears unlikely – elect a replacement Ombudsman, that person would be eligible to be caretaker PM.

Deputy Ombudsman, Elena Cherneva–Markova, this week submitted her resignation, in response to the possibility of being named caretaker PM. Apart from the issue of who is to head an interim government, once the two resignations are accepted, Bulgaria would for the time being be left with no Ombudsman in office.

Chobanov, Milenkov and Chobanov were guarded in their comments to reporters after their respectiv meetings with Radev.

Chobanov issued a reminder that on March 28, BNB governor Dimitar Radev had explained why it was not appropriate for the central bank to be involved in the political process, and had pointed to bars in European and Bulgarian legislation to doing so.

Milenkov said: “My entire professional history is as a banker, not a politician”.

Gyurov said that he had attended the meeting with the President to comply with the constitution, and said that he had discussed with Radev the Bulgarian central bank’s role in the country acceding to the euro zone.

Grancharova-Kozhareva and Todorov were similarly guarded, declining to comment on what had transpired in their talks with Radev, though they said that they were very worried by the situation.

Todorov said that his wife “had not slept for a month” because of worry.

The two Audit Office deputy heads said that there were more worthy people to occupy the post of caretaker PM.

With the meetings with eligible office-bearers over, the President must proceed to announce a decision on his choice of caretaker PM and decree the appointment. The constitution does not specify a deadline to do so.

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