Bulgaria’s nuclear referendum fiasco: We could have used the money better, PM Borissov says

In the first hours after polls closed in Bulgaria’s national referendum on the future of nuclear energy in the country, the “no” camp claimed victory with the same enthusiasm as did the “yes” camp – but more than a few voices also pointed to the expense and waste of effort in an exercise that threatened to fail to produce a decisive result.

Two hours after polls closed, it was clear that voter turnout had been low but it was not clear whether it had cleared the 20 per cent threshold for continuing the agony within the walls of Parliament.

Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said, after polls closed, that the poor voter turnout was no surprise.

He said that voter turnout had been lowest in the cities that were the cleanest. “It was a pointless exercise,” Borissov said of the referendum that his party had voted into being after the initiative for a referendum on the stalled Belene project was driven by the opposition socialist party.

Borissov, who in early January called on his party to vote no, said that the money spent on organising the referendum could have been spent on something more meaningful.

Separately, he said that it had been very nice to have a referendum but there were many other more worthwhile topics on which a referendum had been held.

Yane Yanev, leader of the miniscule Order Law and Justice Party, who took the boycott route (some in the no movement opted for not voting at all in the hope of scuppering the referendum through lack of votes) described the January 27 2013 referendum as a “fiasco”.

According to Yanev, “this is the beginning of the final collapse of the Bulgarian Socialist Party”. He said that if the votes of the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms were taken away, along with those of ultra-nationalists Ataka and other nationalist parties that voted yes, the BSP would be left with fewer votes than they gathered in previous parliamentary elections.

On the issue of cost, Finance Minister and Simeon Dyankov, said on January 27 that the real cost of the referendum would come in at closer to 20 million to 25 million leva, rather than the 14 million leva (about seven million euro) initially approved by the Cabinet.

This was because of the cost of paying for heating at schools, given that most polling stations were at schools.

Dyankov called on socialist leader Sergei Stanishev to resign given that the BSP-driven referendum had been a failure.

Martin Dimitrov, co-leader of the Blue Coalition – who had campaigned against a yes vote – said that it was clear that people had rejected the Belene nuclear power station project. Eighty per cent of those eligible to vote had failed to cast a ballot. Non-participation was a form of rejection, Dimitrov said.

He called on parties, should the matter reach Parliament, also to reject Belene.

Maria Cappon, leader of a minority party that has no seats in Parliament but that registered as a “no” vote committee in the referendum, said that the low turnout showed that people clearly rejected the “fraud” that was the referendum.

Addressing a news conference by ruling party GERB, the deputy leader of the party, Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that “every Bulgarian citizen had lost” in the referendum because of the 20 million leva spent on it.




Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.