Bulgarians abroad to be allowed to vote in nuclear referendum

Bulgarians living outside the country will have the opportunity to cast ballots in the January 2013 referendum on the future of nuclear energy in Bulgaria, the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) said.

Voting will be carried out at Bulgarian embassies and consulates, but only people who have registered in advance of the referendum will be allowed to take part, Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) reported. Registration forms, downloadable from the CEC and Foreign Ministry websites, will have to be mailed (or e-mailed in PDF files) by January 1 2013, BNR said.

Meanwhile, CEC also ruled that the country’s two leading political parties – ruling GERB and opposition socialists – were both limited to campaigning for an affirmative answer to the referendum question, “Should Bulgaria develop nuclear energy through the construction of a new nuclear power plant?”

The reason was that the socialists gathered more than 500 000 signatures asking for the referendum (albeit specifically on the future of the Belene nuclear power plant project), whereas GERB’s referendum initiative secured the necessary number of MP signatures.

Thus, the two parties that are expected to clash heavily in the run up to parliamentary elections next year, find themselves in the same boat, but it remains to be seen how much effort GERB will put into their campaign, given the ruling party’s initial misgivings about holding a plebiscite in the first place.

The relevance of the issue lies in the fact that public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television will have to give equal time to campaigners on both sides. GERB will thus have the air time to present its take – one possible spin is that instead of Belene, it supports building a new unit at the existing Kozloduy power plant – and at the same time cut into the airtime of its main opposition, the socialists, who are expected to argue strongly in favour of Belene, a project that GERB shelved in March.

So far, no campaigns against building new nuclear facilities have been officially registered, but with initiative committees requiring only 7000 signatures for registration, these are expected to file for registration in the near future.

(Belene nuclear plant site, screengrab from Bulgarian National Television)



The Sofia Globe staff

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