The Bulgarian Constitution of 1879 proclaims universal suffrage, which corresponds to the modern European ideas of the late nineteenth century and must guarantee the rights and freedoms of citizens. However, the members of the Constituent National Assembly also lay the foundations for limiting passive voting rights. For various reasons, it is believed that certain groups of people will not be eligible for election as Members of Parliament. This is also the beginning of a steady increase of the requirements that the voters have to meet. This happens constantly and regularly, with identical discussions and repetition of arguments.
Despite this clearly outlined trend, however, the restrictions on the rights and freedoms of citizens in the field of passive electoral law are never harshly breached.
Table Of Contents:
2. Literacy as a limitation of passive suffrage
3. Restriction on service
5. Restrictions on entrepreneurs
6. Limitation on naturalization
Adopted on 16 April 1879, the constitution is the basis of the modern political system of the reestablished Bulgarian state. The constitutional text also draws attention to passive electoral law. In art. 86 the circumstances under which a person has the right to be elected are outlined. To be elected as a mandated representative, one must meet four requirements – Bulgarian citizenship, having civil and political rights, to be at least 30 and being “literate”.
The first two requirements are perfectly reasonable, and for the third limitation, it is a result of pure selfishness on the part of the constituent assembly that has adopted the constitution on April 16, 1879. The MPs themselves are elected under a regime that allows them to participate in the parliament at the age of 25. This was also considered in the draft of the Constitution, but the idea of restricting younger candidates for MPs overrides. The fourth restriction is the vaguest in legal terms and has a potential to provoke a very heavy conflict because it is not from the sphere of jurisprudence but form a purely linguistic sphere.
“Literacy” in Bulgarian is not always identical to “knowledgeable”. Thus, the question immediately arises – how will the level of “literacy” be measured. Moreover, the Russian occupation power legitimizes the Bulgarian language as the only official.
The deputies from the Constituent Assembly vote on the first election law and add more restrictions. Individuals “who have a government deal for various supplies and other or have a public works enterprise” cannot be elected. The right of eligibility is also striped away from those who have entered a real military service. The aim is prosaic and adequate to the European practice-protecting the army from politicizing and turning the officers and non- commissioned staff into a political factor .
2. Literacy as a limitation of passive suffrage
The MPs from the First (1879) and especially from the Second National Assembly (1880) were very quick to understand that the text on “literacy” is not clear. Also, the knowledge of Bulgarian language by the MPs from the Turkish minorities comes to mind. During election times, where the ballots are drawn by the voters themselves, it appears that there are three different combinations of newsletters – in Bulgarian, Turkish and in both languages – all of which are considered valid. Parliamentarians have no choice but to accept the different practices of polling stations as a fait accompli and to recognize the results as reflected in the electoral protocols .
It is imperative for the deputies of Turkish origin to be accepted as literate in their own language. During the signing of the Throne Speech in the spring of 1880, after fierce disputes by a special decision, the deputies received consent to sign in Turkish. Faced with the danger that the document reflecting the relationship between the Parliament and the head of state will not be signed by all, the chairman of the meeting, one of the leaders of the Liberal Party P. R. Slaveikov, agrees, though on condition that “this is allowed in one, two, or at most three years”. The ruling party seeks support in the practice of the Constituent Assembly and accepts that the members of parliament must have “literacy in the official language”. But they also admit that since the Turkish representatives were elected, they are also recognized as “literate”. Such positions of liberal leaders make European diplomats perceive them as a danger to peace and order in the region, all the more so that during this particular period there is a fragile inner peace. Being aware of this, the liberals temporarily renounce their extreme behavior.
Attempts to limit them are objected by the Metropolitan of Varna, Simeon Preslavsky, giving a lesson on liberal behavior to the leaders. According to him, the Turkish members cannot be obliged to learn a new language in a short time: “Such respected and elderly people, forcing them to learn Bulgarian in their old years, seem to me to be a bit difficult. As for the Turkish question, I am glad that this issue was solved two years ago ... and at the Constituent Assembly, Turkish-language signatures were accepted”. The Metropolitan is right, as the Constitution is signed by the Muslim MPs in Turkish. Brilliant example of advanced thinking and avoidance of unnecessary confrontation.
This is the beginning of a constant debate devoted to the constitutional requirement for literacy. It continues to the end of 1880. The parliamentary commission, which has to write the Electoral Law draft, brings a text in which the constitutional formula is developed, and it is determined that the deputies must “know how to read and write in Bulgarian fluently”.
Sufficiently short, but also dangerous enough to unleash the passions and the outbursts of extreme nationalism against European education.
Immediately, the questions arise as to what is behind the term “fluently” and is it necessary to combine official language with “literacy” and “knowledgeable”? For importers, the definition of “fluently” is “to have primary education” by referring article 78 of the Constitution for obligatory initial education. However, some members of the parliament are quick to denounce the new requirement as very “flexible”. The rhetorical and ironic question as to who will examine if they know how to read and write fluently, at first sight resolves the matter, even more so that the Interior Minister, Tsankov agrees that this is a concept of school curriculum and not of parliamentary practice.
But the stance of the future Prime Minister, St. Stambolov is different. His interpretation of the notion of “literacy” is “when a person can read a book freely and understand what he has read, or if told to write something – to be able to do so”. For him, people who do not fulfill this condition should not be admitted to parliament. The majority accepts that “free” is more than elementary literacy “to read and write”. It is necessary for half the cabinet headed by Prime Minister P. Karavelov to reassure the majority and to declare that they are formally right, but at this stage they should confine themselves to the constitutional text. However, they prove to be sufficiently authoritative to avoid complete discussion and voting, and the parliament wisely accepts that “free” is a quantitative rather than a political boundary.
That is not the case with the Bulgarian language. St. Stambolov does not agree to drop the reference to the official language. P. Karavelov tries to explain that the constitution has already defined the official language and that there is no need for a record in the law. This is contradicted by St. Stambolov, who sneeringly suggests that “literacy is understood in any language, perhaps even in Chinese”. On behalf of the Turkish members, Ahmed Terjuman acknowledges that among them “one will hardly find someone to know Bulgarian and to be literate in Bulgarian, as is now required by the National Assembly”. The executive is faced with the danger of remaining without the support of the Turkish minority and of inducing diplomatic problems as it violates the spirit of equal treatment of all citizens cited in the Berlin Treaty. Therefore, the efforts of P. Karavelov to limit the problem are extremely energetic, but the text is voted with the addition “in Bulgarian language”.
Prime Minister P. Karavelov is in sharp contradiction with Prince Alexander I. Prince Alexander I, supported by the High Porte, France and England, clearly outlines in front of Karavelov his firm position against this text of the law and refuses to sign it. Faced with the possibility of the cabinet being blasted by the head of state, the head of the government has no choice but to violate the parliamentary rules. P. Karavelov asks the assembly to change this article of the law. The official motive is not to interpret the Constitution and its text to be entered without clarification or editing. This time the attempts of St. Stambolov to protest were futile. The Speaker of Parliament quickly votes on the proposal. This is de facto a fourth reading, unacceptable in any way and a gross violation of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure.
On the very same day the text was handed over to the prince for affirmation, and in his decree, as well as in the State Gazette, it was recorded that the law was finally adopted on 17. XII. 1880, which is pure forgery. At this point, the liberal majority crosses all legal boundaries .
In 1881 the constitution was suspended, and the prince was given the authority to rule without parliamentary control. The introduced electoral legislation foresees that the lawmakers must be able to “write and read freely”. Legislation that lasted for a short time and at the end of 1883 restored to the 1880 parameters .
By the end of the 19th century the parliamentary debate had been renewed three times. In 1889 and 1893, the government of St. Stambolov elaborates two new electoral laws. Passive electoral law is again debated, and it turns out that, as always, the opposition is giving it an educational qualification. Like years earlier, it is based on Art. 78 of the basic law providing for compulsory “initial education” and therefore insists that the candidates for parliament members have completed at least “4 departments in the official Bulgarian language”. They assume that anyone who runs for a national election must have covered this level of education and this must be accepted by the law. This time St. Stambolov has to put up with this initiative. It is taken into consideration that the Constitution and the Education Act have been adopted ten years ago, and this text can be added when candidates can meet this requirement.
In 1893 Justice Minister D. Grekov categorically prohibits for the majority to impose an “interference to the exercise of the political” rights of people deserving of the country and states: “I think that on the contrary, we have an interest in showing gratitude to our fellow citizens who belong to other nationalities and who, in the most difficult times of the state, proved to be such patriots as those who knew to read and write in the official language”. The third time was in 1897, when Dr. K. Stoilov’s government only raised the problem, and in his draft law he included the remark that “a literate person is able to read and write in the official language”. But the Parliamentary Commission, although highly divided, still prevented another tumultuous reaction in the hall .
In 1909, after three decades have passed since the adoption of constitutional texts, and a generation has grown, educated enough to broadcast political leaders and minorities, the parameters and arguments in the parliamentary discussion are the same, and finally the vote is clarified that parliamentary members “must be able to speak and write in Bulgarian”. After the initial push to limit passive electoral rights on a linguistic and national basis, European and liberal principles proved to be extremely sustainable and did not allow Bulgarian political reality to get negative parameters. Thus, for the first time in modern world history, a relatively large group of Muslims are assured not only electoral rights but also sufficient representation in the legislature .
3. Restriction on service
The first electoral law also accepts a partial ban on eligibility. Civil servants cannot run for parliament in the region they serve, but they can do it anywhere else. Since the voting requires an entry in the electoral list of residence, the law insists that this does not restrict the right of choice and that anyone who is registered as a resident anywhere can raise his candidacy and elect “at any place of the Principality”.
At the end of 1880, the parliament discusses the possibility that officials could not be elected at all. There are several suggestions, but in consultation with ministers, the majority decided to maintain the existing formula. Prime Minister P. Karavelov states that there are not enough intelligent groups in the country to have individuals for all services and for parliament and suggests that this practice will have to be kept for the next 10-15 years. The opposition presents very serious arguments and relies on Charles Montesquieu’s move to divide the authorities. The opposition fears that a chamber full of clerks will not be able to control the executive power because the representatives will depend exclusively on their ministers .
In 1883, the circle of service-bound expands to all who “receive salary, retirement, or state treasury support”, with the exception of ministers and elected officials of district, municipal councils, and jurors. They can be elected if they submit their resignations within ten days of the election. It is important to add that if they are elected and resign themselves, in the next three years they cannot occupy any other office. This is an attempt to make a distinction between clerks holding a post after election and the so-called “Crown faces”, supported directly by the budget. In vain, one of the authors of the constitution, Dr. K. Pomianov, points out that in parliament, “we will have only traders and peasants, and we will not have intelligence”. The answer of the majority is an exceptional testimony to the social attitudes in a parliamentary hall: “It is just because the budget lies only on their back!” 
In 1901, the cabinet of P. Karavelov introduced a serious restriction for those receiving salary from different budgets. It takes away the active and accordingly passive right of guards and firefighters . The next step is to limit the “mayors and their assistants, as well as all other individuals who receive salaries from the municipalities and the districts”. The only goal is that they do not interfere with the electoral process. The receiver of the salary is seen as a potential criminal and a potential violator of the law. Consolation for them is the fact that they can run in their district, subject to resignation within 10 days before the election, without waiting for the expiration of the six-month term as other civil servants. For those who are law- enforced as Members of the National Assembly, they are expected to “opt between their mandate and their service”.
There is virtually no debate, as the majority of the leaders believe there is no violation of the constitution as mayors may resign. It is explained that abusive corruption officials in the election “are a flower compared to those of the electoral servants”. For the government, the participation of mayors in parliament is unnecessary, because they have “a fairly dubious, civilly mischievous behavior, and they are distinguished by their helpfulness” towards the government, and as a result neither the government nor the mayors are controlled. Members agree that this is in favor of the separation of powers .
During the development of modern Bulgaria, religious officials are the emanation of the best that the nation created during the struggle for a national state. In 1879, in the Constituent National Assembly, the list of deputies was headed by Church representatives – two bishops, the abbot of the Rila Monastery and two priests. Once the prince was elected, the religious leaders reach their apogee of influence – in it is the whole high clergy and 12 priests, which makes a total of 8.20% of the assembly composition. In both of the Assemblies, the chairman is the first Bulgarian exarch AntimVidinski– another proof of the role and place of the Orthodox Church.
However, during the discussion of the constitution, there is a rift between the secular and the religious group, which marks the first dividing lines and the imminent secularization in a modern state. Religious officials participate in the vote on the first electoral law, which sets the limits of the eligibility right. By doing so, they themselves are involved in creating a precedent that justifies the next addition of categories and new restrictions to the ban list .
On December 17, 1880, the Second Parliament bans the election of members with a “spiritual title”. This applies only to the so-called “black clergy”; those who have devoted themselves entirely to a spiritual career while the “white clergy” – the local priests retain their right to vote. Hence, the bishops of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church have been removed from the parliamentary participation. And if back in 1879 they were occupying the honorary banks in the parliament, a year later, they became unnecessary ballast for the political system. It is amazing that this text passes in the hall without a single remark, even though amongst the deputies there are three bishops, which later boycott the sessions of the parliament. This limitation does not come into effect, as this law has never been put to practice, since in 1881 the prince establishes the so-called “Regime of credentials” and the new electoral law goes in the opposite direction – the priests lose their right to parliamentary representation .
The restoration of the constitutional regime in 1883 leads to a new formula. All those “receiving salary, retirement or state treasury benefit” are banned, with the exception of ministers and elected officials of district, municipal councils and jurors. Therefore, arises the division of the occupants by the direct election of the population and the so called “crown people” – administrative staff directly supported by the budget. The bishops receive a state subsidy and as a result are finally removed from the parliament. There the discussion and the three ministers clarify that if a bishop wants to be elected, he “must give up his salary”. The Muslim leaders also fall under this category since the mufti also receive their salary from the budget .
The final denouncement occurs in December 1889, when the office of St. Stambolov defines the passive electoral right of both the “white” and the “black” clergy, even though among its counterparties and among the MPs, they are a rather influential group. In the draft law, Stambolov excludes all “individuals with spiritual rank”. This is the cardinal solution to the problem of the spiritual presence in the affairs of the parliament. This is one of the few cases when the lawmakers do not accept the text and want the restriction to apply only to the “black clergy”. In order to preserve the rights of the priests, the opposition also takes part citing the constitutional rights and historical merits of the priests for the national revolution and liberation.
It is mentioned that the white clergy carries the same obligations as other citizens of the country. St. Stambolov also hesitates whether only the monks should be restricted. The debate ends after the assumption that if spiritual faces interfere in the peace affairs, they violate the canons and must be removed from the church. The argument is also based on history, recalling that the split of the Christianity began from the fact that “the Western Church wanted to take the secular power, and the East opposed it”. St. Stambolov manages to convince his lawmakers, but this is one of the few cases when there is a minimal majority. Interestingly, when it comes to the Muslim priests, no one even thinks to raise a question. It was only in 1893 that the question arose again in another dispute over the rights of Orthodox clergymen. The interpretation of the Parliament is that the text restricts all the spiritual faces of various denominations .
In the constitutional text there is not even a hint about the withdrawal of the passive electoral right for religious officials. On the contrary, both in the draft and in the final text, there is a special clause guaranteeing the participation of the religious officials’ in the parliament. Article 132 mentions that “the spiritual officials do not give an oath, but are solemnly condemned to do everything in conscience, having only the common good of the state and the Prince in mind”. Thus, the right of the religious figures to be member of the parliament has been reaffirmed, with a special oath procedure only for them. And the oath is the act that confirms the mandate of the MP and gives them the right to participate in the meetings.
This is one of those moments when the practice is not synchronized with the theory. The passive electoral right of religious activists is never restored, but this is not reflected in the constitution, despite the numerous changes in it. Therefore, it is not only further developed but also in fact suspended in relation to Article 132. Life and political expediency prove to be stronger than the written text. Thus, the lack of sufficient religious personal and public capacity of the Church leads to the fact that “Caesarean” finances are a sufficient compensation for the revoked political rights. And the fact that no one ever protests on the part of the Holy Synod is not coincidental.
5. Restrictions on entrepreneurs
In 1879, “people who had a deal with the government for miscellaneous supplies and others or had a public works enterprise” also fall under the restriction list. If a Member takes such a contract during his term in office, or a publicly-approved undertaking, he must be “deprived of his mandate”. This is the beginning of a constant fear in the Bulgarian society of tying the legislative power with industrial and commercial capital. This actually exceeds the level of development of the entrepreneurial profession in the country but remains in the legislation as a constant requirement and very often MPs leave the parliament after winning a public procurement.
The text remains comparatively constant and persists until 1897, when the cabinet of Dr. K. Stoilov suggests that the restriction should apply to all “who directly have deals with the state for various government deliveries or have undertaken some state work”. The Parliamentary Legislative Commission proposes to limit “and their partners”, with members stressing on “the definitions of the Partners’ Business Law” that should be used as a base for implementation. The extreme left is even more radical and wants the ban on any involvement of entrepreneurs to the National Assembly and wants to limit the shareholders as well. This leads to sharp disputes and opposing members. In the face of the danger that the National Assembly turns to a “last institute”, it is preferable to maintain the existing situation .
The restrictions imposed by the constituent assembly last 30 years and expand in 1908. It includes those who “have a direct share in profits” as well as “technical directors and legal advisors of companies that have enterprises with the state, as well as members of the boards of local insurance companies or the general representatives of foreign insurance companies who have state property insurance”.
This is a blow to some of the most enterprising parts of the society. It is not accidental that the discussion is based on constitutionality – unconstitutionality. Everyone agrees that these constraints are unconstitutional, but because of tradition, they must be preserved. However, their extension must be stopped because it can reach the prohibition of the “sons of state-owned entrepreneurs from the right to participate” in parliament. The Cabinet justifies this with the 30-year practice and the desire for justice, and after a serious discussion the new restriction is accepted .
6. Limitation on naturalization
In the electoral legislation, the passive electoral right of foreigners who have accepted Bulgarian citizenship is not mentioned until 1897. It is a subject to the Law of Bulgarian Nationality. In 1880 a special text is included, according to which after the naturalization and the obtaining of electoral rights, the passive law is obtained after five years. As the citizenship is given by the Parliament itself, practically this term runs from the date of the decision.
The next 1883 law did not impose restrictions on civil and political rights following the naturalization procedure, and everyone gaining citizenship was given full voting rights. On December 20, 1894, the cabinet of Dr. K. Stoilov passed in parliament only one article to the law, with which he returns to the restrictions. But they are increased by three times, and every naturalized citizen has no right to be elected to the National Assembly or to any other elected institution unless 15 years have passed.
Three years later, this issue is finally becoming part of the electoral legislation. The time is again reduced, the naturalists have to wait for 10 years. However, the majority thinks in a much more radical way and offers 20 years or a complete deprivation of voting rights, and admission to the polls to the children of naturalized people. The suspicion is that “nothing has led them to come to us except for the interest”. The attempts for a more liberal legislation fail.
But this is not the pinnacle of the xenophobic outburst in the Bulgarian parliamentarism. In May 1901 the law includes another sentence: “This order has a reverse force”. A short, clear, and flagrant violation of the spirit and letter of the constitutional regime and law. The specific text arises on the occasion of the discussion of the mandate of one of the most interesting MPs – Dr. Pascal Tabourov, a Croatian Catholic who has moved to the country in 1879 and has been elected five times as a Member of Parliament, one of the leaders of the Young Liberal Party and the only one, who was twice censured as a foreign citizen for the time from 1894 to 1909. The inverse force was, however, abolished in 1903 .
The constitutional text provides the basis for limiting passive electoral law. In passive electoral law, the process focuses on the parameters of education, the separation of the church from the state, the rights of state and elected officials and, of course, the most discussed problem – the entrepreneurs’ reach to public procurement. The trend is to increase the number of people who cannot run for members of the parliament, and there is no parliament and government that will not try to continue extending the restrictions. However, broadly speaking, the liberal view dominates, and despite the manifestations of xenophobia and populism, there is no massive restriction of passive electoral law.
Contributo selezionato da Filodiritto tra quelli pubblicati nei Proceedings “2nd Southeast Europe: History, Culture, Politics and Economy - 2019”
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Contribution selected by Filodiritto among those published in the Proceedings “2nd Southeast Europe: History, Culture, Politics and Economy - 2019”
To buy the Proceedings click her.