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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

After the demise of its communist dictatorship in November 1989, Bulgaria became a parliamentary democracy in 1990. A coalition government headed by former King Simeon Saxe-Coburg as Prime Minister took office in July 2001 following the victory of his National Movement Simeon II (NMS) party in June parliamentary elections.

The Bulgarian government is comprised of four main branches(1) the President, (2) the unicameral legislative body called the National Assembly, (3) the Council of Ministers chaired by the Prime Minister, and (4) the independent judicial system managed by the Supreme Judicial Council.

The President, as head of state and commander-in-chief, has these primary responsibilities: scheduling elections and referenda, representing Bulgaria abroad, concluding international treaties, and heading the Consultative Council for National Security.

The 240 members of the National Assembly serve four-year terms. Political parties must have at least 4% of the national vote to enter the Parliament. Among the National Assembly's responsibilities are the following: enacting laws, approving the budget, scheduling presidential elections, selecting and dismissing the prime minister and other ministers, declaring war and deploying troops outside of Bulgaria, and ratifying international treaties and agreements.

The Council of Ministers, comprised of the majority party or a coalition of parties in the Parliament, operates as the primary arm of the executive branch. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister, the Council carries out state policy, manages the state budget, and maintains law and order. Should the National Assembly pass a vote of no confidence in the Council or the Prime Minister, the Council must resign.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts & Judgments

Under the Constitution, the judiciary is granted independent and coequal status with the legislative and executive branches; however, the judiciary continued to struggle with problems including a lack of transparent and neutral standards for assigning cases; poor coordination between prosecutors, investigators, and courts; corruption; low salaries; understaffing; antiquated procedures; and a heavy backlog of cases. The European Union Accession Report on Judicial Independence that was issued during the year stated that because the Constitution provides for independence of the "judicial power," which includes judges, public prosecutors, and investigating magistrates, the separation of these powers is blurred and the independence of judges is compromised. The report also found that the Ministry of Justice continued to exercise extensive administrative powers, and that the Government influences the appointment and promotion of judges and prosecutors, and also influences the outcome of cases. Partly as a legacy of communism and partly because of the court system's structural and personnel problems, many citizens have little confidence in the judicial system. Long delays in trials were common. Human rights groups complained that local prosecutors and magistrates sometimes failed to pursue vigorously crimes committed against minorities. Many observers believe that reforms are essential to establish a fair and impartial, as well as efficient, judicial system. In 2000 the Government began an ambitious training program to upgrade the expertise of the judiciary with the help of international donor organizations, which produced limited results, according to observers.

The court system consists of regional courts, district courts, and Supreme Courts of Cassation (civil and criminal appeal) and Administration. A Constitutional Court, which is separate from the rest of the court system, is empowered to rescind legislation that it considers unconstitutional, settle disputes over the conduct of general elections, and resolve conflicts over the division of powers between the various branches of government. Military courts handle cases involving military personnel (including police personnel) and some cases involving national security matters. The Constitutional Court does not have specific jurisdiction in matters of military justice.

Judges are appointed by the 25-member Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and, after serving for 3 years, may not be removed except under limited, specified circumstances. The difficulty and rarity of replacing judges, virtually regardless of performance, often has been cited as a hindrance to effective law enforcement. The 12 justices on the Constitutional Court are chosen for 9-year terms as follows: One-third are selected by the National Assembly, one-third appointed by the President, and one-third selected by judicial authorities. During the year, the question of whether investigating magistrates enjoyed overly broad immunity--and thus were generally free from disciplinary measures for incompetence or corruption--led to a proposal to limit magistrates' immunity that failed in Parliament, but may be reintroduced next year. The internal mechanisms that controlled against corruption in the judicial system were weak. Due to its composition and inadequate support staff the SJC, which is responsible for the proper administration of justice and drafting the judiciary's budget, was not able to effectively set the judiciary's budget, ensure the effectiveness of judges, or protect the judiciary's independence. The European Union Accession Report on Judicial Independence that was issued during the year reported that the SJC's mixed composition--including numerous appointees of Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, and representatives of other magistrates--and its mandate to represent the entire judicial system (judges, prosecutors, and investigators) make it an ineffective representative of judges and their independence.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Human Rights

The Bulgarian Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in 2001; however, while there were improvements in some areas, its human rights record was poor in other areas. Members of the security forces were responsible for some killings. Security forces commonly beat suspects and inmates and beat and mistreated minorities. Arbitrary arrest and detention were problems. Security forces harassed, physically abused, and arbitrarily arrested and detained Romani street children. Problems of accountability persisted and inhibited government attempts to address police abuses. Conditions in many prisons and detention facilities were harsh. There remained some instances of prolonged pretrial detention, although the Government has continued to improve its performance in preventing defendants' periods of pretrial detention from exceeding the statutory limit of 1 year. The judiciary is underpaid, understaffed, and has a heavy case backlog; corruption of the judiciary is a serious problem. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights. The Government exerted undue influence on the media. There were limits on freedom of association. The Government restricted freedom of religion for some non-Orthodox religious groups. Constitutional restrictions on political parties formed along ethnic, racial, or religious lines effectively limit participation in government for some groups. Violence and discrimination against women remained serious problems. Conditions for children in state institutions were poor, and because of a lack of funds, the social service system did not assist homeless and other vulnerable children adequately, notably Romani children. There was some discrimination against persons with disabilities. Societal discrimination and harassment of "nontraditional" religious minorities persisted, but were less frequent than in the past year. Discrimination and societal violence against Roma were serious problems. Child labor was a problem. Trafficking in women and girls was a serious problem.

Sources: U.S. Department of State; Online Bulgaria

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