Bulgaria’s 42nd National Assembly approved rules on print and online media during elections as voting on the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s controversial election code entered its latest day on February 18.
Voting on the second reading of the election code began on February 12, but two sittings have collapsed since then – one amid a row over rules on using only Bulgarian in election campaigning, while on February 17 proceedings could not begin because of a lack of a quorum, the result of a row over the same issue.
On the morning of February 18, all eyes were on whether the National Assembly would secure a quorum after the previous day’s walkout by Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalist Ataka party and by centre-opposition party GERB.
Siderov led his party out after permission was refused for him to table a resolution condemning Hyusein Hafazov, a Movement for Rights and Freedoms MP, for Hafazov’s fiery remarks about mother-tongue rights during the February 14 sitting. Hafazov, whose party has a strong electoral baese among Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity, had vowed to fight for the freedom to use the Turkish language.
But proceedings on February 18 went ahead after it appeared that a deal had been made between the BSP and Ataka for Siderov’s proposed resolution to be tabled in the afternoon.
Working their way through the lengthy proposed election code, members of Parliament approved a rule that during the official election period, print and online media must offer one and the same conditions and prices to all political parties, coalitions and initiative committees. These must be declared no later than 40 days before election day and must be submitted to the National Audit Office and to the Central Election Commission.
Parties paying for election campaign material in the media must do so in advance.
Print and online media that publish materials “violating the rights and good name” of a candidate or of a person representing a political party, coalition or initiative committee will be obliged to immediately publish the response of the person affected, if one is received.
The response published under the right-of-reply rule must be published in the same place and in the same size, type and format, with no editorial commentary, according to the rule adopted. The person may not be charged for the right-of-reply material being published.
The National Assembly voted to reject a proposal by Ataka MP Pavel Shopov that would have banned disclosure of exit polls on election day.
Shopov wanted the rule in place to try to bring to an end the common practice in Bulgaria of posting exit poll results during voting hours, using coded language – based, for example, on the titles of books, films or songs or the names of flowers – to do so.
MPs approved a provision, similar to existing rules in the current election code, allowing political parties, coalitions and initiative committee to have paid promotional material on public broadcasters.
The duration of such material, the timing and number of broadcasts would be determined by agreement among the heads of Bulgarian National Television and Bulgarian National Radio and authorised representatives of the parties, coalitions and committees.
Election material may be prepared and submitted by the parties or produced by BNT or BNR staf, under the same conditions and prices. These also would have to be submitted immediately to the National Audit Office and the Central Election Commission.
Meanwhile, BSP MP Yanaki Stoilov has become the latest politician to say that there is a risk that the proposed election code might not be approved. Maya Manolova, the BSP MP who was given the task of driving the process of the new code, said the same thing last week after turbulence continued to hit the process of parliamentary approval.
Both the February 17 sitting, which collapsed for lack of a quorum, and the February 28 sitting were called specially in an attempt to complete the second-reading vote on the election code.
* Update: The special sitting on February 18 was adjourned for the day after Speaker Mihail Mikov announced the death of BSP MP Dimcho Mihalevski. The next scheduled sitting was to begin at 9am on February 19, Parliament said.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)