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August 17, 2020

Europe

BULGARIA: Borisov set to remain in office (for now)

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 3 mins)

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s proposal to amend the constitution is unlikely to succeed but could help him win more time in office. While the probability of the government resigning is declining in the near term, rising public disappointment with traditional parties could increase political fragmentation after the March 2021 (or earlier) parliamentary election.

Following five weeks of anti-government protests, Borisov (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB) on 14 August made a public appeal calling for constitutional amendments to “change the political system” and “restart the state.” Borisov pledged to resign as soon as the parliament approves the convening of the Grand National Assembly, a special 400-member body elected exclusively to make constitutional changes.

The main outlined amendments include:

  • Reducing the number of deputies in the National Assembly from 240 to 120
  • Cutting the number of deputies in the Grand National Assembly from 400 to 280
  • Replacing the Supreme Judicial Council – responsible for oversight and appointments in the judiciary – with the Judicial Council of Judges and the Judicial Council of Prosecutors
  • Shortening mandates of the President of the Supreme Court of Cassation, the Supreme Administrative Court, and the Prosecutor General from seven to five years
  • Limiting the powers of the justice minister over the judiciary
  • Creating separate inspectorates for the councils of judges and prosecutors
  • Obliging the Prosecutor General to report to parliament every six months

Borisov’s initiative is unlikely to succeed due to lengthy procedures that require considerable political unity. Elections to the Grand National Assembly can be called by at least two-thirds (160/240) of deputies in parliament. However, the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) with 78 deputies, as well as the right-wing Volya (Will) holding 12 seats in the legislature, has already refused to back the proposal.

Despite the lukewarm reception, the proposal could help Borisov win more time in office. Justice minister Danail Kirov (GERB) expects to present the amendments – signed by an absolute majority (121/240) of deputies – for parliament’s consideration in early September. According to provisions in the constitution, the debate on the topic would be held no earlier than two months and not later than five months from the date of its introduction (i.e., between early November 2020 and early February 2021). Until then, the Prime Minister would find it easier to dismiss calls for resignation and could blame the opposition for blocking systemic attempts to tackle corruption.

While political tensions remain high, the probability of Borisov resigning is declining in the near-term. The protesters continue to block three important intersections in Sofia, but their numbers have been steadily declining. Meanwhile, a milder than expected economic decline and the subsiding Covid-19 infections provides some additional respite for the cabinet. In Q2, the country’s GDP contracted by an estimated 8.2% as compared to the same period in 2019, recording one of the smallest drops in the EU. Moreover, the number of new Covid-19 cases has declined to below 1,000 in the previous week, reaching the lowest figure since early July.

In the medium-term, growing public disappointment with the political establishment – especially the ruling GERB and opposition BSP – could provide opportunities for new political entrants. Opinion polls indicate the growing popularity of the newly established party “No such state” as well as the non-parliamentary center-right Democratic Bulgaria. This suggests a more fragmented political scene after the general election.

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