On the day after Bulgaria’s referendum on whether to build a new nuclear power station, the Central Election Commission was not willing to announce whether or not the 20 per cent voter turnout threshold had been surpassed, while polling agencies were divided on that question.
The significance of the 20 per cent threshold is that, if voter turnout was higher than that, the question would have to be referred to the National Assembly, Bulgaria’s unicameral Parliament, for resolution.
If voter turnout was less than 20 per cent, all that the referendum would have amounted to was an opinion poll costing – according to the Government – about 20 million to 25 million leva (about 10 million to 12.5 million euro), higher than the 14 million leva budgeted.
Had there been 60 per cent voter turnout with more than half the votes being “yes” the referendum would have been persuasive, but it was clear that the stayaway among the theoretical total of 6.9 million voters was huge.
With just more than 97 per cent of ballots processed by 2.30am on January 28, yes votes added up to 832 742 and no votes to 522 927, according to the Central Election Commission.
A total of 19 337 were counted as spoilt ballots.
On the afternoon of January 28, a spokesperson for the Central Election Commission said that it could not be said for certain whether the voter turnout had exceeded 20 per cent or not.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said that a total of 4348 Bulgarians voted at the 44 polling stations at embassies abroad. Separate reports said that more than 50 per cent of those who voted abroad voted no.
Rival political parties, predictably, sought to put their own spin on the outcome of the January 27 2013 referendum, the first in Bulgaria’s post-communist history.
Centre-right ruling party GERB sought to portray the referendum, in which the party’s stance had been in favour of a no vote, as a loss for every Bulgarian citizen “because 20 million leva was spent on a referendum to which the public attitude, as we knew all along, was a big ‘no’,” party deputy leader and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said.
Tsvetanov firmly rejected any connection between the referendum and the national parliamentary elections due to be held in summer 2013, saying that the referendum outcome could not be extrapolated into a projection for the elections.
It was Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov who hit out at the cost of the vote, and it emerged that Dyankov – unlike most of his Cabinet colleagues – had not actually voted.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party said that the referendum result was a “vote of no confidence” in Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s government.
The socialists campaigned for a referendum on the long-stalled Belene nuclear power station project, which Borissov’s Cabinet officially cancelled in March 2012. By the vote of the GERB majority in Parliament, a specific reference to Belene was dropped from the referendum question although campaigning by the pro and anti camps centred on the Belene issue.
BSP leader Sergei Stanishev described the referendum result as a “personal loss for the Prime Minister” while former president Georgi Purvanov of the BSP said that Borissov should resign. Lyutvi Mestan of the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms said that the referendum result signalled the beginning of the end of the Borissov era in Bulgarian politics.