A draft proposed new electoral code produced by a parliamentary committee dominated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party would keep the current proportional representation system in place without introducing a majoritarian vote – thus ignoring a key demand in months of protests.
Both the protests that began in February 2013 and those that began in June saw demands for electoral law reforms. Both have demanded “direct citizen participation” in future parliaments to break the hegemony of established political parties.
The anti-government protests that began in June, demanding the resignation of the current Bulgarian Socialist Party minority government which anti-government protesters see as utterly discredited, have seen participants call for electoral reforms to avoid fresh elections producing a parliament similar in composition to the current one.
A key element of the anti-government protests has been rejection not only of the ruling axis of the BPS, Movement for Rights and Freedoms and ultra-nationalists Ataka, but also, by many protesters, rejection of former ruling party and the current largest party in Parliament, Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB.
For the past three months, a temporary parliamentary committee has been working on a new electoral code. Headed by socialist MP Maya Manolova, proceedings of the committee were boycotted by GERB, and attracted no participation from anti-government groups, on the same basis that all they seek from the BSP ruling axis is its resignation from power.
Instead of a fundamental change to the means by which Bulgarians choose their MPs – apart from introducing preferential voting on party lists – the draft amendments, contained in 119 pages, offer reforms of the mechanical workings of the system – in one case, literally, by proposing a change from voting on ballots to machine voting.
The amendments also do not propose a reduction of the four per cent threshold for entry into Parliament.
Other steps proposed include reforms to prevent the identities of dead people being used to vote, changing the Central Election Commission into a state body elected by members of Parliament, numbering and watermarking of ballots to prevent abuses, and a proposal billed as giving equal access to parties in and out of Parliament during official election periods.
On this last-mentioned point, the proposal is that parties that do not have a state subsidy because they are not represented in the legislature would be given a budget of 40 000 leva to spend on media appearances, while no fees would be charged by the radio and television public broadcasters.
At a meeting of the committee on September 12, MPs from GERB made an appearance, after Borissov’s party ended its boycott of parliamentary committee proceedings after Parliament resumed for its autumn session.
There were clashes as senior GERB MP and former Speaker of Parliament Tsetska Tsacheva demanded to know from Manolova who had authored the texts.
Manolova said that there had been eight public hearings on the “most important topics” in the draft.
Plans are for the bill to be sent to committees and debated by the full National Assembly in October.