Bulgaria’s move to change constitution on MPs’ immunity may face difficult path

Bulgaria’s move to change constitution on MPs’ immunity may face difficult path

Sofia, October 27, 2015/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Bulgaria’s centre-right GERB party, the majority partner in government and the largest party in the National Assembly, was starting consultations with other parties on October 27 on changing the constitutional provision that gives MPs immunity from prosecution – but the outcome of these consultations was by no means certain.

The move by GERB was prompted by the latest public incident involving Volen Siderov, leader of the extremist Ataka party, whose raucous behaviour in late-night confrontations in central Sofia has caused politicians to accuse him of systematically abusing his immunity from prosecution as an MP.

National Assembly Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, a senior GERB member, told a news conference on October 26 that the party would seek the rescinding of Article 70 of the constitution, which provides for MPs’ immunity. It is understood that GERB wants to replace this universal immunity with privilege for MPs only when in the chamber of the National Assembly – a move that, if approved, would put Bulgaria in a position similar to that of the traditions of Westminster.

A constitutional amendment may be tabled in the National Assembly by the head of state – the President – or on the basis of a bill tabled with the signatures of a quarter of the total 240 members of the National Assembly.

To be approved, a constitutional amendment requires a majority of three-quarters of the votes of all members of the National Assembly in three readings on three different days, meaning 180 votes.

In the current National Assembly, elected in October 2014 and which if it serves its full term will continue until 2018, GERB has 83 MPs.

The next-largest groups are the Bulgarian Socialist Party (38 MPs), the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (36 MPs) the Reformist Bloc (23) and the Patriotic Front (18).

For GERB to succeed, it would have to come up with an agreed text on the proposed constitutional amendments and secure substantial support among parties, including those in opposition to it, to acquire the required remaining 97 votes for the measure to pass.

So far, Georgi Purvanov’s socialist breakaway ABC – which has 11 MPs and thus is, along with Siderov’s Ataka – one of the two smallest parties in Parliament – has declared itself in favour of the idea of changing the constitutional provision on MPs’ immunity. Purvanov said that ABC long had wanted the removal of the immunity provision, although he cautioned that such a decision should not be taken on the basis of the emotional impact of the latest Siderov incident, on October 25.

The centre-right Reformist Bloc coalition, minority partner in government with GERB and which is made up of five parties, is set for internal discussions on the issue.

One of the constituent parties in the Reformist Bloc, Meglena Kouneva’s Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, has indicated that it would table its own proposal regarding the lifting of MPs’ immunity.

Daniel Vulchev, a senior member of Kouneva’s party, told reporters on October 26 that the idea of immunity never was to enable an MP to be able to, unlike ordinary citizens, commit outrages in public.

The leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Mihail Mikov, said that the constitution allowed the arrest of an MP in flagrante delicto. The constitution provided sufficient grounds for authorities and prosecutors to have intervened in the October 25 Siderov incident, he said. Mikov said that raising the topic of the constitutional change now was shifting attention from the problems around the October 25 municipal elections.

As GERB begins its negotiations, which Tsacheva said would be with “all other parties” represented in Parliament, it might be suggested that there would be one where the idea might not find fertile ground – the 11-MP Ataka parliamentary group of Volen Siderov.