site.btaUPDATED Parliament Approves in Principle Constitutional Amendments
Parliament approved in principle constitutional amendments. They went through on first reading in a 164-66 votes with no abstentions. If adopted, the revisions would reform the judicial system, limit some of the President's powers, and democratize the election of members of regulatory and control authorities.
The changes were proposed by GERB-UDF, Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms on July 28. In the Friday vote, they were backed by the three parties which had proposed them. The "against" votes came from Vazrazhdane, BSP for Bulgaria and There Is Such a People.
In keeping with the procedure, the revisions were put to a first-reading vote after failing to get the necessary support of three-quarters two months ago.
One of the focal points in the constitutional revisions is a judicial reform that would restructure the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), which will be kept as an administrative and personnel-management authority for judges only. The term of office of the presidents of the two supreme courts would be reduced to five years from seven now, with the possibility of a single re-appointment. They would be appointed and released directly by the SJC, and the President would not have a say in the matter.
The revisions provide for the establishment of a separate Prosecutors Council of ten members: two elected directly by prosecutors, one elected directly by investigating magistrates, six elected by parliament from among representatives of various legal professions and organizations, and the prosecutor general, who would be an ex officio member.
The Prosecutors Council would exercise the key career and disciplinary powers with regard to prosecutors. The structure of the prosecution service would be decentralized.
The prosecutor general would be appointed by the Prosecutors Council on the initiative of the minister of justice or of three members of the Prosecutors Council. The term of office of the prosecutor general would be reduced to five years from seven years now.
The amendments set up a special mechanism for the investigation of the prosecutor general.
The revisions would limit the functions of the prosecution service to criminal procedure, divesting it of the powers to exercise general supervision as to legality of acts and steps of state bodies.
Furthermore, the amendments deny the President full discretion in appointing a caretaker prime minister, limiting his or her choice to the chair of the National Assembly, the president of the Constitutional Court and the governor of the Bulgarian National Bank. A caretaker cabinet would be appointed by the President on a proposal by the prime minister. The President would schedule parliamentary elections within two months after the appointment of a caretaker cabinet.
The period during which Parliament does not sit in case of early elections would be limited to one month. Parliament would not sit within one month before polling day.
The proposed revisions will also move Bulgaria's National Day from March 3 (the day of signing of the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878 after the Russo-Turkish War) to May 24, which is celebrated as the Day of Slav Letters and Bulgarian Culture. During the debate, however, it became clear that this is not going to go through in the conclusive vote.
Here is a takeaway from the comments by ranking members of the parliamentary groups, made during the debates or after the vote, in the corridors of Parliament:
Continue the Change co-leader Kiril Petkov: Today was a major step towards the change we have been promising for the last two years. With the effective Constitution, now none of us is satisfied with the level of justice in our society. The fact that these changes are being made is a real step forward to have a change in the basic relations in society and our hope is that they will lead to greater justice. You may not see the real changes in the first month or two, but in the next few years our whole society should start to function in a different way, in a more transparent way, with more fairness.
Democratic Bulgaria co-leader Hristo Ivanov: Today we saw that there is a constitutional majority that wants a change, wants to hear reasonable criticism and will work to improve the bill of amendments. In the two months between the two first readings [since October 6] there were in-depth discussions. In the course of these discussions, areas of agreement have emerged which, between the first and second readings, will undergo changes. I hope that in this way things will lead us to a successful change in the Constitution that will bring about two simple things: having a court in Bulgaria that is more independent and having a prosecution service that will be accountable and that can modernize itself in the best interest of society. Judicial reform will not end with the constitutional amendments. They are the indispensable groundwork but then we will also have to amend the Judicial System Act, after which the new members of the respective judiciary bodies will be elected, which will start applying the new rules. The debate on the [revisions that abolish a discriminatory provision limiting the eligibility for senior public office to persons holding] Bulgarian citizenship only is still ongoing and the best solution is being sought. There are arguments to keep it only for ministers or only for MPs.
GERB leader Boyko Borissov: In a week's time there will be a second-reading vote on the constitutional amendments, and on December 20 a third reading. Between the first and second reading there are small details that can be tweaked. On all the controversial texts, I think we will find the best text in discussion with our partners. We have yet to discuss with both the CC-DB and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms the abolition of the restriction for dual-citizenship holders for ministerial positions. If we reach an agreement, it should be abolished because there are already generations of Bulgarians living abroad, there are many successful Bulgarians who would not want to give up their dual citizenship, and they could make good government ministers.
MRF floor leader Delyan Peevksi, speaking in the corridors of Parliament after his party did not take the floor during the debates: The constitutional amendments will pass their third reading before Christmas. We are currently discussing what to change. We have just adopted the initial version. We will comment when the seven-day period between the first and second readings is over. If GERB don't support changing the date of the national day, it cannot happen without them.
Margarita Mahaeva of Vazrazhdane: The proposed changes to the constitution are absolutely unnecessary and some are harmful and dangerous for national security. Half of the proposals are not even within the competence of an ordinary National Assembly to be adopted. Vazrazhdane will approach the Constitutional Court about the revisions.
BSP for Bulgaria floor leader Korneliya Ninova: The debate confirmed that this is a fake conversation about a fake Constitution. Let's what they will propose between the first and second reading and then we will announce our ideas for changes. We have sent a letter to President Rumen Radev asking him to give to the Socialist party the constitutional changes prepared by his team. Remember that it was during the 2020 protests [against the Boyko Borissov government] when Radev announced that he had a draft revision of the Constitution, that he was ready to move it officially. Now is the time for him to do so. If the President gives us his proposals for constitutional changes, the good ones will be submitted by MPs from the BSP for Bulgaria. BSP for Bulgaria is organizing a meeting with constitutional law experts, lawyers and MPs who, during the 7th Grand National Assembly, created the current Constitution. The meeting will take place on December 12.
Ivaylo Valchev and Toshko Yordanov of There Is Such a People: The proposed revisions create an option for cutting short or extending the life of the National Assembly. Such a decision has nothing to do with the parliamentary republic. This debate is held because of Hristo Ivanov's fixation on constitutional changes.