The bitterly disputed process of voting on the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s proposed new election code suffered another reverse on February 17 when a special sitting collapsed because of a lack of a quorum.
The quorum was lost after a walkout by ultra-nationalist Ataka members of Parliament, while centre-right opposition party GERB also absented themselves.
A row erupted in the National Assembly in a sequel to the February 14 drama over provisions making Bulgarian the sole language that may be used in election campaigning.
That day, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent and which is part of the current ruling axis – was incensed when MPs from the other three parties united to reject its amendment that would have allowed campaigning in a language other than Bulgarian provided that translation into Bulgarian was provided.
In the course of the February 14 voting process – in itself already the third day that the party holding the mandate to govern was trying to get the lengthy and controversial election code approved – an MRF MP made a fiery speech vowing defiance of the law, invoking Turkish figures as he did so.
This, in turn, infuriated Ataka leader Volen Siderov, who on February 17 sought to get the House to adopt a resolution condemning the MRF MP, Hyusein Hafazov.
This attempt failed when the presiding officers refused to include the resolution on the agenda, leading Ataka to walk out. Siderov told reporters that if there was any attempt to put the campaign language issue back on the agenda, “I will seriously question the need for this parliament to exist”.
When the issue was raised whether the National Assembly was still quorate, a count found that it was not and a 30-minute adjournment was called to try to raise the required numbers. Reporters at Parliament said that Maya Manolova, the BSP MP who has been attempting to drive the election code through Parliament and who also is one of the National Assembly’s deputy presiding officers, tried to get Ataka to return to the House.
“We cannot approve something we haven’t seen,” Manolova was quoted as saying regarding the Ataka motion condemning Hafazov, although it remained unclear how the BSP could strike a compromise that would satisfy both its governing party the MRF and Ataka.
The BSP itself appears somewhat tangled on the campaign language issue. In the vote on February 14, most voted against the MRF amendment, a few voted for and a group abstained. The BSP has insisted it is “united” on the issue, while at the weekend socialist Speaker of Parliament Mihail Mikov was quoted as saying that he was in favour of the MRF amendment.
After the adjournment, a further count established that there was no quorum, and the sitting was adjourned until the starting time of the next special sitting, 10am on February 18.
Controversy over the election code has endured because, among other things, the ruling axis has turned down a majoritarian voting element, has also rejected making voting mandatory and allowing electronic voting, while there also have been tussles over a number of other issues, including thresholds for entry to legislatures and media campaign funding for parties not represented in a legislature.
Critics also have pointed out that approving a new election code less than a year before an election – the May 25 vote in Bulgaria for members of the European Parliament – runs counter to Venice Commission principles.