Bulgarian head of state President Rossen Plevneliev is asking the Constitutional Court to rule whether three of the questions planned for a national referendum in autumn 2016 are permissible in terms of the constitution.
The three questions are about, first, whether to introduce online voting in elections and referendums, second, whether to halve the number of members of the National Assembly to 120, and third, to elect the heads of regional directorates of the Interior Ministry through a majoritarian electoral system requiring an absolute majority at the end of two rounds.
The questions are among six raised in a petition initiated in 2015 by television show presenter Slavi Trifonov.
Trifonov and his team presented the petition with more than 576 000 signatures to parliamentary officials in early 2016. A check by officials established that about 476 000 signatures were valid, over the legal minimum of 400 000 signatures from eligible voters required to compel the National Assembly to call a referendum.
It is expected that the referendum will be held simultaneously with the first round of presidential elections, probably in late October 2016.
Plevneliev said that Bulgaria’s constitution said that changes to or additions to the constitution could be adopted only by a Grand National Assembly (an elected 400-member body, envisaged in the constitution with certain prerogatives – article 158 of the constitution says that a Grand National Assembly decides on any changes to the state structure or form of government).
The President said that the constitution should not be circumvented by allowing a National Assembly to adopt by a simple majority decisions about consulting the electorate on issues that relate to the form of state and government.
He said that the extremely rare use of direct democracy in the years of Bulgaria’s transition represented a huge deficit in the democratic development of Bulgaria. Referendums had yet to play an important role in strengthening democracy.
Plevneliev said that it was extremely important that this instrument was developed on the basis of clear rules, about which questions could be put in a referendum and which could not.
Unless this was done, there was risk that direct democracy would be tainted and citizens would lose confidence in it, he said.
The way to prevent this was to get rulings from the Constitutional Court, the body required to ensure the supremacy of the constitution.
On the issue of the question about electronic voting, Plevneliev said that a referendum had been held on this question in October 2015, at his request, and Parliament had complied with the outcome of that referendum.
The May 2016 decision by the National Assembly to hold another referendum on the same issue was contrary to the nature and purpose of direct democracy, Plevneliev said.
– The other three questions in the Trifonov referendum questionnaire are about electing MPs by a majoritarian electoral system with an absolute majority in two rounds, about introducing compulsory voting in elections and referendums, and cutting the annual state subsidy for the financing of political parties and coalitions to one lev per valid vote in the most recent parliamentary election.