Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev announced on January 29 2014 that he would ask the National Assembly to agree to the holding of a referendum on electoral law issues, with the vote to be held on the same day as Bulgaria’s European Parliament elections.
These elections are expected to be held on May 25.
Plevneliev, in an address broadcast on television and radio public broadcasters, said that Bulgaria’s civil society had “shown unequivocally its willingness to be an active participant in the decision-making process” – a clear reference by the head of state to the series of public protests in the past year.
All politicians were urging the making use of “civil energy”, Plevneliev said, telling Bulgarians: “let us do so in the most democratic way, through a referendum”.
He said that he would invoke his lawful right to propose to the National Assembly the holding of a national referendum on three questions:
- Do you agree that some of the lawmakers should be elected by majoritarian vote?
- Do you support the introduction of compulsory voting in elections and national referendums?
- Do you support electronic voting in elections and national referendums?
Plevneliev’s call comes against the background of highly controversial proposed amendments to Bulgarian electoral law that are currently making their way through the parliamentary process, with the backing of the current ruling axis involving the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Movement for Rights and Freedoms and ultra-nationalists Ataka.
In his address, Plevneliev said, “Over the past two decades before each election, the government changed the law in the hope that it will help them win more seats in the National Assembly. Frequent changes are an indication that we have not found a sustainable solution.”
Apart from question marks put by critics over the content of these “reforms”, the fact of the 42nd National Assembly being asked to approve electoral law changes less than six months before a scheduled election has been condemned by opponents as in violation of European Union principles.
Plevneliev, head of state for just more than two years after being elected on the ticket of centre-right then-governing party and current parliamentary opposition GERB, said that he was proposing that the referendum be held on the same day as the 2014 European Parliament elections because this would save costs while also enabling people to express their position on important issues related to the political rights of Bulgarian citizens that, he said, were at the basis of its democracy.
“I appeal to the (MPs) to take a decision on the holding of a national referendum on these issues, which, I believe, will strengthen the institutions in Bulgaria and enhance public confidence,” Plevneliev said.
If the National Assembly agrees, which is likely to be improbable given ruling axis hostility towards Plevneliev, this would be Bulgaria’s second referendum in its post-Zhivkov era, after the January 2013 referendum about the future of nuclear energy in Bulgaria.
That referendum, which in reality was about whether to proceed with the building of the Belene nuclear power station, drew too few voters to be decisive.
According to article 84 (3) of the Bulgarian constitution, it is the National Assembly, the country’s unicameral parliament, that decides on the holding of a referendum. In turn, the head of state sets the date.
First to react to Plevneliev’s proposal was GERB, which welcomed it, while among MPs for the BSP, MRF and Ataka, reaction was predictably negative, with MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan seeing it as an attempt to sabotage the government’s new electoral law.