No Confidence Vote, Elections and Scandals: Overview of Bulgaria's Political Year

Politics | December 31, 2022, Saturday // 15:34
Bulgaria: No Confidence Vote, Elections and Scandals: Overview of Bulgaria's Political Year Speaker of Parliament Vezhdi Rashidov @BNT

A government ousted by a vote of no confidence in the 47th Parliament, a failed attempt at a first-term cabinet in the 48th National Assembly, thematic coalitions, elections and electoral legislation characterize the two consecutive parliaments in the 2022 political year.

The forty-seventh parliament has been working under a regular government for just over seven months, adopted a decision on the accession of the Republic of North Macedonia (RNM) to the European Union (EU), a declaration on the military conflict in Ukraine and created a temporary commission on the suspension of gas supplies from Russia.

In the 48th National Assembly, due to the lack of a ruling majority, bills and decisions were voted on by thematic coalitions, some of them also received name tags - "coalition of the war", "Lukoil coalition", "coalition of the paper ballot", "coalition Vezhdi Rashidov".

In the 47th National Assembly, we witnessed the first cabinet overthrown by a vote of no confidence since the beginning of the democratic changes in Bulgaria. Kiril Petkov's government, which ruled initially in a quadruple format ("We Continue the Change", "Democratic Bulgaria", BSP and "There Is Such a People"), and later in a triple format - after the party of Slavi Trifonov, was elected in mid-December last year and was removed by a vote of no confidence on June 22 of this year.

The dividing lines in the ruling coalition turned out to be the request for military aid to Ukraine, the decision to start the negotiations of the Republic of North Macedonia (RNM) for membership in the European Union, the expulsion of Russian diplomats and officials, the election of the governor of the BNB, as well as the money for road construction companies.

Two days after the vote of no confidence, the parliament adopted a decision regarding the European integration of the RNM. This was also one of the reasons why, at the beginning of June, the leader of "There Is Such a People" Slavi Trifonov announced in a video message that his party was leaving the coalition. After this decision, six deputies from TISP left the parliamentary group and the party. The Minister of Sports Radostin Vassilev also broke away from TISP Later he and former TISP MPs participated in the negotiations to form a new government within the framework of the 47th NA.

In addition to a very young composition, the 47th parliament also had the youngest speaker in the new democratic history of the country - 34-year-old Nikola Minchev from "We Continue the Change". And one of the first decisions of the deputies was a moratorium on the prices of electricity, heating and plumbing services until the end of March.

The forty-seventh National Assembly managed to belatedly vote on the budget for this year and a few months later to update it, as well as to close the specialized justice system. In June, the Speaker of the Parliament, Nikola Minchev, was removed from his post and returned as a regular member of parliament from "We Continue the Change". The mandate, as an acting official, was completed by Miroslav Ivanov, who shortly before that "survived" as the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly It never came to the election of a new holder of the post.

Negotiations for a new cabinet – without result

Despite the attempts and the developed administrative and legislative program, "We Continue the Change" (WCC) failed to gather the necessary number of at least 121 MPs in support and did not propose a draft cabinet, and the prime minister-nominated Asen Vassilev returned the unfulfilled first exploratory mandate to the president Rumen Radev. GERB-SDS refused to take the second mandate.

The last, third mandate was given by the head of state to BSP. The left party and "Democratic Bulgaria" (DB) were of the opinion that the candidate for prime minister should again be from WCC and proposed Asen Vassilev. WCC set a condition for the adoption in the plenary hall of the anti-corruption bill and for the election of Boyko Rashkov as chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission. Subsequently, the time came for the bill to be approved only in the first reading in the relevant parliamentary committee, but not in the plenary hall. At the invitation of BSP, their former partners in the government “There Is Such a People” (TISP), as well as those who are not members of a parliamentary group, joined the negotiations for a cabinet. A video of a meeting of the PG of “Democratic Bulgaria” (DB) in parliament, broadcast live, became the occasion for a new rift between the partners. In a new video address, Slavi Trifonov announced that his party is withdrawing from the negotiations for a new cabinet. A few days later, the Socialists returned the unfulfilled exploratory mandate. President Radev commented that the coalition bequeaths chaos in the energy sector to the future ministerial cabinet. - later, BSP leader Kornelia Ninova told journalists that the head of state was "part of this group that overthrew the current government."

The expulsion of 70 Russian diplomats and officials was also a fault line in the coalition - the resigned Deputy Prime Minister Kornelia Ninova asked the National Assembly to adopt a decision for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to cancel the note for their expulsion. At the beginning of July, the employees of the embassy of the Russian Federation left Bulgaria.

On the first day of the military intervention in Ukraine, the Bulgarian National Assembly issued a declaration in which it condemned Russia's gross violation of international law and the encroachment on Ukraine's territorial integrity. Parliament supported our partners and allies in the EU and NATO in discussing a package of measures, including sanctions, to de-escalate the conflict. In April, during the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, to Bulgaria, he actively talked about providing military aid to Kyiv. BSP threatened to leave the government if the government decides to export arms and ammunition to Ukraine. At the end of April, a Bulgarian delegation led by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov visited Kyiv and met with President Volodymyr Zelensky. BSP did not send a person to the delegation, it included representatives of the other three political forces from the ruling coalition - WCC, DB and TISP. On May 4, after more than five hours of debate, the parliament approved the provision of humanitarian, financial and military-technical assistance to Ukraine, according to Bulgaria's capabilities.

At the end of February, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov announced that he wanted the resignation of Defense Minister Stefan Yanev, arguing that his defense minister could not use "operation" instead of "war" in connection with the military actions in Ukraine and "does not have the right to his own external politics, especially on Facebook". Later, Yanev created his own political project - "Bulgarian Rise", which became part of the 48th Parliament.

There was also a scandal surrounding the election of a new chairman of EWRC - Stanislav Todorov, proposed by "We Continue the Change". He remained in the post for about six months, after which his previous director - Ivan Ivanov - was returned to the regulator. The reason was that on July 27 the Constitutional Court declared Todorov's election unconstitutional. The court was referred by GERB-SDS. Thus, the Commission was left without a leader, and household consumers and businesses faced the real danger of not having established prices for electricity, heating and water supply from August. Because of the case between TISP and WCC, more sparks and accusations of pressure flew around.

The election of governor of the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) and the incident with the road construction companies were another reason for discord among the governing formations. As a result, a new governor of the Central Bank was not elected after two of the coalition partners proposed their own candidate for the post. Andrey Gyurov, chairman of the PG "We Continue the Change", and Lyubomir Karimanski, chairman of the parliamentary committee on budget and finance - from "There Is Such a People" entered the battle. Subsequently, Karimanski remained the only candidate, but he was supported only by TISP and DPS. After the failed procedure for electing a governor of the BNB, the parliament nevertheless decided that half of the amount for road repair and maintenance, or about BGN 600 million, would be allocated to the road companies.

Budget 2022

At the end of February of this year, instead of at the end of the previous one, the National Assembly adopted the Law on the State Budget for 2022, as well as those of the NHIF and the DOO, after a series of extended sessions. Among the decisions are that kindergartens will become free from April 1, the amount of the provision for raising a child up to the age of two will be increased, and the minimum wage will increase to BGN 710. Even when the budget was adopted, the governing majority talked about updating it in the middle of the year. At the end of June, it became a fact and included an emergency package of anti-crisis measures to reduce the negative consequences of the increasing prices of fuels and energy carriers on people and businesses. From July 1, the minimum pension became BGN 467, including the COVID supplement in the amount of BGN 60.

The closure of the Specialized Criminal Court, the Appellate Specialized Criminal Court and their respective specialized prosecutor's offices became final in April following the adoption of changes to the Judiciary Act.

Arrest of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov

On March 17, shortly after 9:00 p.m., the Ministry of the Interior announced that a large-scale operation was underway in the country due to the 120 reports of crimes in Bulgaria announced by the European Chief Prosecutor Laura Kovesi. As part of the action, the leader of the largest opposition party in the parliament and former prime minister Boyko Borissov, the finance minister in two of GERB's offices Vladislav Goranov and the party's publicist Sevdelina Arnaudova were detained. The three were released the next day without charge. In April, the Sofia District Court ruled that the ex-prime minister was detained illegally and at the time of his detention no evidence was collected that he had committed a crime. DG National Police announced that they will appeal the decision of the Sofia District Court.

The government "behind bars" also became the cause of a scandal in the plenary hall. In mid-May, metal bars were placed on the inside of the doors of the official entrance to the National Assembly. They were installed after a breach in the line that the police had formed during the "Vazrazhdane" protest in January against the restrictive measures due to COVID-19.

The last working day of the 47th National Assembly ended with declarations from the parliamentary tribune of all political forces except BSP and DPS, and without a general photo in front of the building.

Extraordinary parliamentary elections October 2

On October 2, Bulgarian citizens en masse did not exercise their right to vote. According to data from the Central Electoral Commission, voter turnout was only 39.40%. In all polling stations, except those with less than three hundred voters, elections were by machine. After the elections, seven political formations entered the 48th National Assembly. GERB-SDS were the first political force with 67 MPs, "We Continue the Change" remained second with 53 MPs, Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) - with 36 MPs, "Vazrazhdane" - 27, The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) - 25, "Democratic Bulgaria" - 20 and "Bulgarian Rise" - with 12.

Machine voting was adopted within the framework of the 46th National Assembly on the proposal of "There Is Such a People". After the elections on October 2, it was Trifonov's formation that failed to pass the four percent barrier and enter the new parliament. The 48th National Assembly narrowly elected a Speaker, adopted the so-called extension law on the state budget and found a majority for granting military and military technical assistance to Ukraine and for changes to the Electoral Code. It was the change in the Electoral Code that became the reason for accusations of a "paper coalition" to be made in the 48th National Assembly. The changes were adopted on December 2, 2022. The head of state vetoed provisions of them, but on the last plenary day before their Christmas break, MPs rejected it and voted for the changes by 125 “in favor” and 101 “against”, with no abstentions.

A difficult start for the 48th National Assembly

The first session of the newly elected parliament was convened on October 19 - a day on which the Bulgarian Orthodox Church honors St. Ivan Rilski - patron of the Bulgarian people. According to tradition, it was opened by the oldest deputy - Vezhdi Rashidov (GERB-SDS). Unprecedentedly, at their first meeting, the deputies failed to elect a Speaker of the Parliament. The case with the constitution of the 48th National Assembly lasted for three days - a time when the Parliament's clock was stopped, and the first session continued. A check of "Reference Information" in BTA showed that there is no case since the changes in 1989, in which the Speaker of the Parliament was not elected at its first session. Initially, GERB-SDS proposed Rosen Zhelyazkov, but his nomination did not gather the necessary votes. A dramatic turn occurred with the nomination of the oldest deputy, who, after recusing himself, was subsequently proposed again - this time his candidacy was announced by the leader of the left, Kornelia Ninova, on behalf of four of the political forces represented in the parliament. Thus, with the support of BSP, "Bulgarian Rise" and "Vazrazhdane", the candidacy of Vezhdi Rashidov from GERB-SDS was voted.

Floating majorities, attempts to sabotage Parliament sessions, procedural gripes and heated exchange of remarks about 'paper coalition', 'political impotence' and 'coalition of war' marked the first session since the beginning of the 48th National Assembly. Since the beginning of its mandate, it has adopted 22 laws, 58 decisions and a declaration regarding Bulgaria's accession to the Schengen area.

Whether the 48th National Assembly will succeed in electing a regular government will become clear after the New Year, when President Rumen Radev is expected to continue the constitutional procedure of handing over the second exploratory mandate to form a government to "We Continue the Change". From there, they already nominated Nikolay Denkov, who was acting minister of education, for prime minister. Denkov proposed that the political forces represented in the parliament should send their priorities for the development of the state, which would be united in a general project of a program declaration. If the plenary hall supports the document, WCC will return the mandate of the president fulfilled. If this does not happen, the delivery of the third mandate is expected. The leader of GERB, Boyko Borissov, said that he is optimistic about a cabinet with a third term - especially if it goes to "Democratic Bulgaria", then there is a great chance to form a government based on the Euro-Atlantic majorities in the parliament.

The first attempt to broadcast a cabinet from the GERB-SDS coalition failed after the proposed Prime Minister Nikolay Gabrovski was not approved in the plenary hall vote. "In favor" of his nomination were 113 deputies, "against" - 125, with no "abstentions".

The war in Ukraine

Military support for Ukraine continued to be a dividing line in the 48th parliament. In the 47th National Assembly, it led to contradictions in the ruling quadruple coalition at the time.

Already on the first day of the military intervention, the 47th National Assembly issued a declaration in which it condemned the gross violation of international law by the Russian Federation and the encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but the sending of weapons became possible in the 48th National Assembly, after and it took a decision to oblige the Council of Ministers to prepare a list of the available weapons that could be transferred to the needs of the Ukrainian army within one month. During the voting, BSP raised an appeal written on sheets - "No to weapons! Peace!". Opponents of sending weapons "united" the political forces in favor of military support in a "coalition of war".

A month later, the parliament decided to send military-technical support to Ukraine, proposed by the Council of Ministers. 148 deputies voted "in favor", 46 were "against", and one abstained. The parliamentary groups of GERB-SDS, DPS, "Democratic Bulgaria" and "Bulgarian Rise" unanimously supported the decision. The PG of "We Continue the Change" voted "in favor", and one deputy abstained. From "Vazrazhdane" and BSP they were categorically "against." Yavor Bozhankov was even expelled from the parliamentary group of the left party after he voted to send military support and declared from the rostrum that Russia would lose the war.

At the beginning of the debates, the meeting was closed, but later it became public again, and during the closed part, people's representatives from BSP broadcast live on social networks what was happening in the plenary hall. The volume and type of armaments that Bulgaria will provide to Ukraine are classified. The left demanded that the list be declassified and published, but the proposal did not receive majority support. "What we are sending is in the top three of Ukraine's priorities as the armament requested by us," said Defense Minister Dimitar Stoyanov. "The lists have been agreed with the Ukrainian side, and I think the colleagues from Ukraine will be satisfied," he said. Minister Stoyanov explicitly emphasized that the lists do not include S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as MiG-29 and Su-25 aircraft. "The proposal mainly affects the Ground Forces," he said. Acting Minister of Economy and Industry Nikola Stoyanov stated that Bulgaria will provide Ukraine with small arms and some ammunition. He pointed out that the aid that our country will give to Ukraine will in no way affect the combat capability of the Bulgarian Army.

The decision adopted by the parliament allows the residence of up to 60 persons from the armed forces of Ukraine per year to participate in training modules for combat paramedics on the territory of Bulgaria in connection with the implementation of the European Union Assistance Mission to Ukraine.

The participation of up to 50 Bulgarian military personnel for training in the use of weapons and equipment provided within the framework of the European Union Assistance Mission to Ukraine, on the territory of EU member states and/or in Bulgaria, is also planned, as well as the participation of up to five Bulgarian military personnel (officers/sergeants) in the EU Multinational Command for General Military Training in Poland and/or the Multinational Command for Specialized Training in Germany.

A week after the decision to provide military support to Ukraine, the Bulgarian parliament also ratified the agreement between the defense ministries of the two countries regarding the free provision of weapons, equipment and ammunition.

It is obvious that there is a ‘coalition of war’ in the hall, which ratified the agreement on the provision of arms to Ukraine”, said after the vote the chairman of the PG of the Bulgarian Socialist party Kornelia Ninova and called on the president Rumen Radev to veto the law on the ratification of the agreement. She noted that what was voted reduces the powers of the National Assembly and contradicts the Constitution, since the minister has signed a contract that the annexes to it are not subject to ratification in the parliament. BSP and "Vazrazhdane" invited each other to join their signatures, after which together they collected the necessary number to refer to the Constitutional Court about the arms for Ukraine.

The 48th National Assembly extended the 2022 Budget

At the end of February this year, instead of at the end of the previous one, the National Assembly adopted the Law on the State Budget for 2022, after a series of extended sessions, one of which was at midnight. At the end of June, the budget update was adopted, including an urgent package of anti-crisis measures to reduce the negative consequences of the increasing prices of fuels and energy carriers on people and businesses. The caretaker cabinet of Galab Donev submitted to the 48th National Assembly an extension law on the budget. The caretaker government's argument was that otherwise the state budget would be used by the parliamentary represented political forces for "election bidding". “We Continue the Change” held a series of consultations in connection with the budget procedure with the parliamentary parties, trade unions and employers' organizations for the submission of a new budget for 2023. From the party of Kiril Petkov and Asen Vassilev, they proposed a draft declaration with which the parliament insists the Ministerial council to propose a new budget for next year. Although the declaration was debated in plenary, it was not adopted.

Thus, on November 1, the official cabinet submitted to the parliament a Bill for the continuation of the provisions of the Law on the Budget for 2022, the Law on State Social Insurance (SSI) and the Law on the Budget of the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIS) for this year. The changes were finally voted on the last plenary day before the MPs went on vacation for the Christmas and New Year holidays - December 23. With the adopted texts, the existing tax reliefs and reduced tax rates for the period were preserved, and salaries, pensions, social payments are financed at the levels reached as of December 2022. The proposal of Asen Vassilev from "We Continue the Change" for a permanent increase in the amount of the tax relief for young families with children up to 18 years of age, as well as for children with disabilities, to BGN 900 instead of the previous BGN 600. The biggest controversy was caused by the proposal of BSP for a mechanism to determine the amount of the minimum wage in the country. Their proposal that it be no less than 50 percent of the average wage for the country or BGN 850 from January 1 was not accepted. At the same time, apart from in the parliament, there was also a dispute about the amount of the minimum wage between the social partners The two trade unions KNSB and KT Podkrepa have announced that they are convening their strike committees in January.

Another measure introduced by Kiril Petkov's cabinet in the previous parliament, related to the discount per liter of fuel in the amount of BGN 0.25 per liter, was decided to operate until December 31 of this year.

In the so-called extension law on the budget, it is written that the Council of Ministers submits to the parliament the bills for the state budget for 2023, the budgets of the NHIF and the DOO within 4 months from the expiry of the period of the Law on Public Finances, which is until 31 October of the current year. The four-month term stops running from the day of dissolution of the National Assembly until the day of constitution of the next National Assembly. Vouchers for food, for payment of household electricity and heat energy, natural gas and water, for activities carried out by cultural organizations were kept. Vouchers up to BGN 200 per month will not be taxed under certain conditions, the parliament also decided.

Changes to the Electoral Code

The Parliament rejected the presidential veto on the changes to the Electoral Code with the votes of GERB-SDS, DPS and BSP. "We Continue the Change" defined the actions of the three political forces as actions of the "paper coalition" and insisted on preserving the protocol of the machine vote. The changes to the Electoral Code were voted on at a nearly 18-hour long meeting of the Committee on Legal Affairs. After the changes, which foresee an increase in the number of applications for the opening of a polling station abroad and the closure of the Public Council of the Central Election Commission (CEC), the leader of GERB-SDS Boyko Borissov intervened. He promised that the parliamentary group would withdraw the controversial changes and even expressed the readiness of the GERB-SDS group to support the president's veto. In the end, the 48th National Assembly supported the changes, which restored the possibility to vote by choice - with a paper or a machine ballot.

It was agreed that the voting should be behind screens and not in "dark rooms". Machine ballots will be counted by precinct election boards along with paper ballots, and the machine tally will not apply to the board tally. At the suggestion of "We Continue the Change", the pay of the members of the sectional commissions was increased, and it cannot be less than a quarter of the minimum wage. The number of mandates will be determined on the basis of the last census of the NSI, not on the basis of GRAO. The deputies kept the record of the "Abroad" district, but at the suggestion of GERB-SDS, they decided to apply it from January 1, 2025. The requirement for 40 applications to create a section abroad remained, and not the 100 initially proposed by GERB-SDS applications. The Central Election Commission (CEC), assisted by the Minister of e-Government, provides access to the source code and documentation of the electronic machine voting system, as well as all other software tools applicable to the electoral process. It was decided that the CEC would conduct an experiment with secure ballot paper for machine voting within three weeks after the adoption of the Election Code. Experimental electronic voting was cancelled.

One of the big scandals in the 48th National Assembly - about the contract with "Gemcorp", also led to the creation of a temporary commission

With 197 votes “in favour”, none “against” and no abstentions, the MPs created an Interim Commission to establish all the facts and circumstances related to the signing and termination of the $1 billion memorandum with Gemcorp Holdings Limited and IP3 Corporation by the government with Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. This was done at the suggestion of GERB-SDS. The commission is made up of 14 people's representatives on a parity basis - two from each parliamentary group and must prepare a report on the facts and circumstances it has established. Desislava Trifonova from GERB-SDS was elected its chairman.

The memorandum with Gemcorp and IP3 Corporation is non-committal, commented former Minister of Energy Alexander Nikolov after the end of the hearing of Acting Energy Minister Rosen Hristov in the temporary commission.

On November 25, deputies from GERB-SDS submitted a report to the State Customs Service and the Ministry of the Interior about the memorandum with "Gemcorp". They are demanding that investigations be carried out into what offenses have been committed and whether, if any, they are illegal acts under the Penal Code.

Reforms under the Recovery and Resilience Plan

The 47th National Assembly adopted changes to the Law on Judiciary which closed the specialized courts. This happened in April. On the agenda are the changes in the Law on the Anti-Corruption Commission and the powers of the prosecutor general.

Bulgaria's membership in Schengen - declaration of the 48th National Assembly

The Parliament adopted a declaration regarding the accession of Bulgaria to the Schengen area. It was supported by 106 people's representatives, 18 were "against". From "We Continue the Change" (WCC) and "Democratic Bulgaria" did not participate in the vote, because they were not in the hall due to disagreements with changes to the Election Code adopted by the legal commission. In the declaration, the National Assembly declares full support for the efforts of the Bulgarian government to achieve a decision of the EU Council for Bulgaria's Schengen membership by the end of 2022. With a decision of December 8, the EU Council for Justice and Home Affairs rejected the proposal that Bulgaria and Romania join Schengen.

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