A controversial draft bill that would have curtailed the voting rights of Bulgarians abroad has been withdrawn and the official responsible for posting it online has been fired.
This was announced by the Justice Ministry on April 5, a day after reports about the draft bill, which proposed allowing Bulgarians to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections only if they had been resident in the country three months prior to the vote.
Critics immediately pointed out that this would hardly survive a challenge in the Constitutional Court.
In its Wednesday statement, the ministry said that caretaker Justice Minister Maria Pavlova had identified “imperfections” in the text of the draft amendments to the Bulgarian Citizenship Act.
Pavlova had dismissed the head of the legislative council directorate, Lyubomir Talev, because the draft text had been put on the ministry’s website without this being co-ordinated with her. The actions of the official had been deliberate, with the aim of discrediting the ministry, the statement said.
Ahead of Bulgaria’s March 2017 early parliamentary elections, there was considerable controversy about Bulgarian passport-holders in Turkey voting in large numbers, both in the neighbouring country and also entering Bulgaria to do so.
Bulgarian nationalists, in particular, resent the influence of the “Turkish vote” which tends to go to two parties, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and Lyutvi Mestan’s DOST.
The nationalists were behind amendments in 2016 that limited the number of polling stations in non-EU countries to 35. This was a move clearly directed against the electorate in Turkey, which in early 2017, saw the largest number of notifications to vote abroad in Bulgaria’s elections.
Amid the controversy before the March elections, there were calls from various political parties to curtail polling stations in Turkey or even to close the border. Protests by the nationalist United Patriots coalition to block the Turkish border and prevent buses with voters entering Bulgaria are currently being investigated by prosecutors as a possible violation of laws on voting rights.
(Photo: copyright Clive Leviev-Sawyer)