Bulgaria ponders constitutional issues as government resigns

Bulgaria ponders constitutional issues as government resigns

The resignation of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s government has prompted President Rossen Plevneliev to ask the Constitutional Court for its opinion on vital procedural issues, while a number of political parties – including Borissov’s own – are calling for a Grand National Assembly and radical constitutional changes.

Borissov, who announced on November 13 that his government would resign because of its defeat at presidential elections that day, has tabled his resignation in the National Assembly, which is due to vote on it on November 16.

The government’s resignation triggers a procedure set in the constitution, by which the President three times must offer a mandate to seek to form a government. Should no viable government be formed, the President appoints a caretaker government, disssolves Parliament and decrees elections.

President Plevneliev, who in his single term in office already has twice had to appoint caretaker governments and call early parliamentary elections, faces a more complicated situation this time around.

Plevneliev, who took office in January 2012 and whose term expires on January 22 2017, is barred by the constitution from dissolving Parliament because he is in his final three months in office. He can, however, proceed with the mandate-handing ritual and with appointing a caretaker cabinet.

The President’s office announced that he had asked the Constitutional Court to interpret provisions on the constitution related to this situation.

He made the approach to avoid conflicting interpretations of the constitutional and to “prevent a vaccum in the constitutional system,” the President’s office said.

Plevneliev noted that there were different opinions being put forward publicly and among lawyers about the situation from now on.

According to one interpretation, in the last three months of his term of office, the President cannot dissolve Parliament and cannot call early elections and has only the authority to appoint a caretaker government.

Another interpretation holds that in the last three months of his term, the President cannot dissolve Parliament but can appoint a caretaker government and call elections within two months.

It is on these conflicting opinions that the Constitutional Court has been asked to give its interpretation.

Meanwhile, it is unclear how soon the Court will pronounce on the matter.

Plevneliev has held talks with his successor, Roumen Radev, with indications that Plevneliev will consult the BSP-backed future president about whom to appoint to the caretaker government.

On taking office in January, Radev would be entitled to appoint his own caretaker government.

On November 13, when announcing that he would resign, Borissov called for a Grand National Assembly, an extended body provided for in the constitution, with the ability to make fundamental changes to the constitution.

He said that it was obvious that the way that the political class was operating was not ood and most people were dissatisfied.

Borissov’s GERB party is backing the proposed constitutional changes that got the most support in a legally indecisive national referendum on November 6. Borissov also backs a question proposed for the referendum but not included in it because it is a matter to be resolved by a Grand National Assembly, halving the number of MPs to 120.

To convene a Grand National Assembly, two-thirds of the MPs in the National Assembly must vote in favour.

Other parties that have spoken in favour of a Grand National Assembly are Georgi Purvanov’s minority socialist ABC.

“If we do not make radical changes now, we will not respond to public expectations,” ABC deputy leader Roumen Petkov said.

Radan Kanev’s Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, a minority opposition party formerly part of the Reformist Bloc, also backs the holding of a Grand National Assembly, because of the “need for radical change in the political system.”

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party indicated willingness to discuss the idea, depending on the presentation of proposals to change the constitution.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms said that it was hard to see how such an initiative would be feasible given the short length of time remaining to the current Parliament.

The nationalist Patriotic Front said that there were more important issues facing the country than changing the constitution.

If Bulgaria’s Parliament agrees to a Grand National Assembly, the President has three months to convene one./IBNA