The latest twist in the plan for Bulgarians to vote in a referendum on whether to build Belene nuclear power station has seen Parliament’s legal affairs committee decide that the question will not mention Belene.
The referendum is the result of a campaign by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) to hold a referendum on proceeding with the nuclear project, in spite of the decision by the centre-right GERB government in March 2012 to sign the death warrant on the Belene project.
As it turned out, that death warrant was signed in disappearing ink, when GERB moved to reverse its position after a would-be investor emerged a few months later.
The BSP mustered sufficient signatures in a national campaign to petition Parliament for a motion to request the President to agree to the calling of a referendum.
GERB, headed by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, agreed to the holding of a referendum, but recent days have seen political manoeuvring on the phrasing of the question and whether the referendum would be constitutional.
Bulgarian law does not allow the holding of a referendum on a budget matter, and GERB MPs have argued that a specific mention of Belene, which would require spending from the budget to proceed, would be unconstitutional.
On October 19, Parliament’s legal affairs committee held a lengthy session to discuss rival proposals for the phrasing of the question, tabled by the socialists and by GERB itself.
The socialist-backed proposal was a question asking voters whether they supported developing Bulgaria’s nuclear energy by building Belene nuclear power station.
GERB’s question was phrased to ask whether to develop nuclear energy in Bulgaria by building a new nuclear power plant.
Socialist MP Yanaki Stoilov described the situation of having two questions on one and the same issue as “absurd”.
As it was clear that the ruling party would prevail, socialist MPs and members of Ahmed Dogan’s Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), walked out of the legal affairs committee meeting. Socialist MP Maya Manolova said that what was happening was “a disgrace for GERB and the legal affairs committee”.
Hristo Biserov of the MRF, which was the socialists’ partner in the 2005 to 2009 coalition government, said that Parliament was obliged to launch a referendum that asked the question that had been put in the petition presented to it.
“There is no legal right for the question in the referendum to be reformulated, the only option is for it to be edited,” Biserov said, quoted by local news agency Focus.
Socialist MP Lyuben Kornezov, a former Constitutional Court judge, said that the issue of rephrasing of the referendum question would head for the Constitutional Court.
The BSP argued that law on referendums entitles citizens to express their view on a move made by Parliament.
But GERB MP and legal affairs committee chairperson Iskra Fidosova said that the decision to stop Belene had been taken by the Cabinet, and only endorsed by Parliament.
She said that the wording proposed by the BSP was unconstitutional. This view also has been taken by President Rossen Plevneliev, who has said that disagreement among parties on the wording of the question and the BSP proposal to specifically mention Belene could prompt him to refer the matter to the Constitutional Court himself.
(Main photo, of the National Assembly: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)