Caretaker Justice Minister Pavlova Halts Draft Amendments Introducing Residence Qualifications for Voters

Caretaker Justice Minister Pavlova Halts Draft Amendments Introducing Residence Qualifications for Voters

Caretaker Justice Minister Pavlova Halts Draft Amendments Introducing Residence Qualifications for Voters

Sofia, April 5 (BTA) - Bulgaria's caretaker Justice Minister Maria Pavlova has dismissed Lyubomir Talev as head of the Council on Legislation Directorate and halted a Bill to Supplement the Bulgarian Citizenship Act, which was posted Monday evening on the Ministry's website for public consultation, the Justice Ministry said in a press release on Wednesday.

The version of the draft legislation that appeared online would introduce three-month residence qualifications for voting in parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Ministry found that Talev acted intentionally, aiming to discredit the institution, because the bill published for public consultation had not been consulted with the Ministry.

The Ministry said it was suspending the public consultation of the bill because Pavlova had detected flaws in the formulations and in the reasons and because it is inconsistent with the Constitution.

The draft that was initially prepared by Justice Ministry experts envisaged that the residence qualifications rules would make express provisions enabling Bulgarians resident in all EU Member State to exercise their voting rights.

President Implicated

The "24 Chassa" daily quotes Talev as saying that the controversial amendments were written by Emilia Droumeva, who is Legal Secretary to President Rumen Radev and a former Constitutional Court member. The dismissed director said that the bill arrived from the Administration of the President last week, was finalized by April 3, after which it was cleared with the Council of Ministers so as to make an impact assessment, was signed by Deputy Justice Minister Denitsa Mitrova, and Talev merely published it for public consultation. He was positive that the draft legislation was cleared with Justice Minister Pavlova as well.

The "Dnevnik" daily also quotes Talev, who said that the amendments were discussed on Monday at a meeting with the participation of Radev and Droumeva. Approached by the daily for comment, Droumeva says she has seen various versions of the revisions coming from various central-government departments. "A version providing for three-month residence qualifications for all elections has not reached me," she told "Dnevnik". The President's Legal Secretary pointed out that "these are very early drafts" and that "the National Assembly will have the final say on adoption". She decline to comment on the substance of the idea to require three months' residence from expat voters.

Round Up of Reaction

"GERB insist on the immediate withdrawal of the draft amendments to the Election Code and on a cancellation of its public consultation," former justice minister Ekaterina Zaharieva told a news conference on Wednesday.

While the news conference was in progress, the bill was withdrawn and the party expressed its satisfaction and hope that the caretaker Cabinet will not reintroduce is next month.

GERB argued that the provisions on residence qualifications for voting in parliamentary and presidential elections affect the rights of millions of Bulgarian citizens. "It is inadmissible that such revisions should be made by a caretaker cabinet and even by a regular government," Zaharieva said. "Instead of integrating Bulgarian citizens, we deprive them of rights," she added.

The former justice minister noted that GERB is trying to reach agreement with the United Patriots on the introduction of a full-fledged majoritarian election system, as decided by the November 2016 national referendum. The coalition agreement will clearly spell out the commitments in all policies.

"It's none of a caretaker cabinet's business to address issues related to election legislation," former foreign minister Kristian Vigenin said at an extraordinary news conference at the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) headquarters. He welcomed the decision to withdraw the bill amending the Bulgarian Citizenship Act.

Vigenin pointed out that these subjects need to be formulated very accurately so as to guarantee that, on the one hand, the constitutional rights of Bulgarian citizens resident abroad would be preserved and safeguarded and, on the other, to ensure that any attempts at external interference with the election process in Bulgaria would be thwarted.

According to Socialist MP Valeri Zhablyanov, bilateral relations between Bulgaria and Turkey rather than the dual nationality held by emigrants from Bulgaria is the cause for tensions in the domestic political process in Bulgaria. "The issue about the dual nationality must be raised in the context of Bulgarian-Turkish relations, and talks must be held with the Turkish State," he pointed out.

Bulgaria's former Ambassador to the UN Stefan Tafrov said on BiT television that the proposed amendments to the Election Code restrict the constitutional rights of Bulgarian citizens permanently settled abroad which excludes them from the political process. Tafrov stressed that his personal opinion is identical with the opinion of the Yes, Bulgaria Party, which Wednesday published a declaration taking strong exception to the bill. "Nobody dares take political responsibility for this hostile act against expatriate Bulgarians," Tafrov noted. "We should not forget that the Bulgarian citizens living in Turkey are there because they were expelled by the Bulgarian communist regime in the 1980s. Instead of integrating them with Bulgaria and keeping their ties with Bulgaria, we regard them as enemies and facilitate their political encapsulation," the diplomat argued.

The number of eligible voters among expatriate Bulgarians is estimated at 1 million. Out of 117,000 expats who voted in the March 26 parliamentary elections, 33,077 did so in Turkey. Of the 104,000 who cast ballots abroad in the November 2016 presidential elections, 39,000 went to the polls in Turkey. For years now, immigrants living in Turkey have been bussed to Bulgaria in large numbers expressly for the elections. This proved a major issue this year, after the nationalist United Patriots attempted to block the border crossings in a bid to prevent the expats' entry.

Source: Sofia