Siderov scandal: Bulgaria’s ruling party seeks constitutional change on MPs’ immunity from prosecution

Siderov scandal: Bulgaria’s ruling party seeks constitutional change on MPs’ immunity from prosecution

Sofia, October 26, 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 Parliament, says that it will open negotiations on changing a constitutional provision giving MPs immunity from prosecution – a step taken after the latest public fracas involving Ataka party leader Volen Siderov.

Tsetska Tsacheva, Speaker of the National Assembly, announced the step at a special news conference on October 26, the day after Siderov and Ataka members were involved in a tense confrontation in central Sofia, the latest in a series.

The Bulgarian constitution’s Article 70 says that a member of the National Assembly shall be immune from detention or criminal prosecution except for the perpetration of an criminal offence, and in such case the permission of the National Assembly or, in between its session, of the Speaker of the National Assembly, shall be required. No permission shall be required when a member is detained in flagrante delicto; the National Assembly or, in between its session, the Speaker of the National Assembly, shall be notified forthwith. No permission for initiating criminal prosecution shall be required, where the member of the National Assembly has given his consent thereto in writing.

Tsacheva said that in recent days, the Bulgarian public had been scandalised by the brutal acts of members of Parliament who had abused their status as MPs.

GERB categorically condemned the actions of such MPs, she said. “They are in gross violation of the rule of law, failure to comply with the law, a violation of the democratic foundations of the authority of the state and an undermining of the authority of Bulgarian insitutions,” Tsacheva told the news conference.

She said that GERB’s executive committee had decided to initiate amendments to the constitution and the deletion of Article 70.

Tsacheva noted that the Prosecutor-General had tabled a request in the National Assembly for permission to initiate criminal proceedings against MPs (Siderov and Ataka MP Dessislav Chukulov), but she said that the current system was cumbersome and did not match the mood of the public.

GERB would on October 27 begin consultations with other parties represented in Parliament. “We hope to receive support to settle the issue regarding the immunity against prosecution in the National Assembly,” Tsacheva said.

Siderov, whose party has been represented in the National Assembly since 2005, and currently is one of the two smallest parties in Parliament, has repeatedly been involved in public scandals.

Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov has sent a succession of three requests for the removal of Siderov’s immunity. One was in regard to a case of hooliganism and assault of a police officer at Varna Airport, the two more recent ones involved clashes in Sofia. In the first of these two, several eyewitnesses told investigators that Siderov appeared to be under the influence of alcohol.

There have been cases when Ataka members flashed their identity cards as MPs in the apparent belief that this lends them some kind of executive or special powers. Siderov did so in 2014 while involved in a confrontation with a French diplomat, while in an incident in the National Theatre and Film Academy building in Sofia on the night of October 25, an Ataka MP also tried to use his card as supposed proof that his intrusion into the building was legal, as he held it up in the face of the academy’s director, while screeching, “can you read?”.

Meanwhile, in Sofia a public protest is planned for the evening of October 26 to demand the removal of Siderov’s immunity from prosecution. The Facebook event announcing the event attracted more than 11000 users who said that they were going.