Voter turnout in Bulgaria’s November 6 2016 presidential elections and national referendum appeared set to break records as voting day neared the mid-way mark, going by figures from the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Voting in the presidential election is compulsory but this does not apply to the national referendum. By 1pm, voter turnout for the election was 26.2 per cent and for the referendum 22.79 per cent, according to the CEC.
Turnout was highest in the Rhodope mountain region of Smolyan, at 33.74 per cent. It was lowest in the southern Bulgarian region of Kurdzhali, at 17.88 per cent. In Sofia province, voter turnout was higher than 30 per cent in all 22 municipalities.
The CEC said at 1pm that it had received 76 complaints about alleged irregularities, none involving vote-buying.
Complaints included that there were separate ballot booths for voting in the presidential election and in the referendum, which is against election rules.
The CEC added that if a ballot was put in the wrong box, for instance a presidential election ballot in the referendum box, this was the fault of the local election commission and the vote will be counted as valid.
A correspondent in Turkey for public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television reported long queues at polling stations in Istanbul and Bursa. By 2pm, a total of 8300 people had voted in the two Turkish cities, the report said. It was expected that voting hours would be extended because of the long queues at polling stations.
Bulgarian electoral law specifies that polling ends at 8pm local time whether in Bulgaria or outside the country. However, the law gives local election officials leeway to extend voting hours if there are queues of people waiting to vote at 8pm.
Long queues also were reported in London. The UK has the largest number of polling stations abroad for the Bulgarian elections, 53. The queues were reported to longest in eastern and northern parts of the British capital, where many Bulgarians live.
According to a report by Bulgarian television station bTV, Bulgarian voters in London were waiting between two and four hours to vote.
At the Bulgarian embassy in London, voting was proceeding smoothly, the report said. Four of the total 17 polling stations in London are at the embassy. Bulgarians in London said that it appeared that turnout there would break previous records.
The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said that by 2pm, about 33 000 Bulgarians abroad had voted.
The Foreign Ministry said that turnout was highest in Turkey, at 14 700, followed by the UK, 3400, Spain, 3200 and Germany, 2000.
Alpha Research estimated voter turnout at 40 per cent at 4pm. The agency predicted turnout of 55 per cent. In 2011’s presidential elections in Bulgaria, first-round turnout was 52.2 per cent.
Meanwhile, while Bulgarian law forbids the publication of exit poll results in the course of voting hours on election day, a number of Bulgarian-language media exploited a loophole in the law by posting provisional results on their Facebook pages.