Amendments to Bulgaria’s election laws, being approved with about two weeks to go to the November 2016 presidential elections, are set to push up the cost.
Bulgaria’s Cabinet initially approved a budget of about 47 million leva (about 24 million euro) for the vote on November 6 – with the possibility of a second-round presidential election – and the three-question national referendum to be held the same Sunday.
But Bulgaria’s National Assembly is in the process of approving amendments to the Electoral Code that will add an unofficially estimated half a million leva to the price tag.
The amendments, the first reading of which was approved by the National Assembly on October 21, scrap the limit on the number of polling stations that may be opened in European Union countries. They also allow for more than one ballot box in polling stations abroad.
The amendments also allow for the “I don’t support anyone” option on the ballot paper of the presidential elections to be counted in towards final results – unlike the initial version of the law, which provided for them to be counted only towards turnout but not as part of the result of the voting.
Pushing up the price tag of Bulgaria’s November 2016 elections will be the factors of opening more polling stations abroad than initially envisaged – for example in the United Kingdom, originally subject to the statutory limit of 35 polling stations but which will now, as an EU country, have more than that, software costs, and for the Central Election Commission to tally the “I don’t support anyone” vote towards the final results.
A report on local television station bTV on October 22 estimated the increase in costs as adding up to about 500 000 leva.
Controversy has attended the 2016 version of the Electoral Code, leading to the last-minute amendments.
At the insistence of minority coalition government deal partner the nationalist Patriotic Front, the ruling majority in April approved a limit of 35 on the number of polling stations that may be opened in a foreign country.
This limit irked Bulgarian expatriates in countries such as the UK and the US, where they saw it as limiting their ability to exercise their constitutional right to vote. The Patriotic Front move was directed against the electorate in Turkey, where votes overwhelmingly go to the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a party traditionally led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity.
Amid recent uproar about the limits, a compromise was reached among the parties of the ruling coalition to scrap the limit in respect of EU countries, but not non-EU countries. That meant that the limit stays in place regarding Turkey – though, of course, it also stays in place regarding the US – also a non-EU country.
With the changes to the limits to the number of polling stations abroad appearing a certainty because of the weight of support in Parliament, the Central Election Commission already has declared an increase in the number of polling stations in a number of foreign countries, including Germany and the UK.
Similarly to concerns being raised about the unconstitutionality of the limit on polling stations abroad, which Ombudsman Maya Manolova has now referred to the Constitutional Court, there were also objections to the “I don’t support anyone” option being counted only towards turnout but not as part of the final result – also, experts said, an unconstitutional provision.
In another part of the deal among governing coalition partners, it was agreed that the “I don’t support anyone” option on the ballot would count in final results in presidential and mayoral elections, but not in elections for the National Assembly and municipal councils.
The second reading of the Electoral Code amendments is expected to take place in the National Assembly around the middle of the coming week, about a week and a half before the November 6 vote in Bulgaria’s presidential elections.