Contrary to expectations that Bulgaria’s Parliament would debate amendments to the Electoral Code on October 18, the discussion will happen only later this week as the item was placed as ninth out of nine items on the order paper.
The Electoral Code amendments are intended to deal with major controversies over the number of polling stations abroad for Bulgaria’s November 2016 presidential elections, and with the “I don’t support anyone” option on the ballot paper for elections.
Parliament’s first order of business on October 18 at its special sitting was a proposal to revoke its October 12 vote to go into recess for close to a month in the run-up to the presidential elections.
This decision caused considerable controversy, with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov among those irked by it. Those behind the decision said that they wanted to prevent the National Assembly plenary being used for electioneering, while permitting portfolio committees to continue their work.
Borissov pressured the National Assembly to resume plenary sessions.
On October 18, the vote to revoke the decision on the recess was 177 in favour, none against with 10 abstentions. Instead, Parliament will be in recess from November 2 to 4. The first round of the presidential elections is on November 6.
The items on the agenda for Parliament, apart from revoking the recess, include setting up an ad hoc committee of inquiry “to verify all data, facts and circumstances” of the decisions regarding Belene nuclear power station for the period from 2006 to the end of September 2016 that had led to the emergence of huge financial obligations on the part of Bulgaria.
This is followed by ratification of a treasury bill, on a treaty between Bulgaria and the European Investment Fund, then the second reading of amendments to the Military Police Act, a draft resolution on the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), draft resolutions on amending the rules of procedure of the National Assembly, the first reading of amendments to the Excise Duties and Tax Warehouses Act, and the first reading of amendments to the Obligations and Contracts Act.
Only after these will MPs get to the amendments to the Electoral Code – depending on when Parliament decides to sit, perhaps on Wednesday, perhaps as late as Thursday or Friday, though the precise timing is not possible to predict.
In effect, assuming that the amendments will be approved – and there seems sufficient support among parliamentary groups for approval – it will mean that Bulgaria will amending its election laws just more than two weeks before an election. Should Parliament get through both first- and second-reading stage by Friday.
In terms of a deal reached at emergency talks on October 17, Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, and governing coalition minority partners the Reformist Bloc and the Patriotic Front will support a proposal to impose no restriction on the number of voting stations in EU member states, while for the remaining countries, the limit of 35 will remain in place.
The Reformist Bloc has tabled a proposal regarding the “I don’t support anyone” option on the ballot paper, to not use the previously-approved Electoral Code methodology in majoritarian elections as in the case of presidential or mayoral votes. This will ease concerns that the vote could be rigged and the polling threshold will remain four per cent, bloc parliamentary group co-leader Naiden Zelenogorski told reporters on October 17.
Mariana Todorova, an MP for socialist splinter party ABC, one of the two smallest parliamentary groups, said that after the presidential elections, ABC would propose the establishment of an “expert group” to draft a new electoral code, “with a vision for the next 15 to 20 years so that there are no problems in elections”.
(Photo: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)