Tussles continue among Bulgarian political parties over compulsory voting, election date

After yet another week of political crisis after the powerful defeat dealt to the Bulgarian Socialist Party in the European Parliament elections, wrangling is continuing over the key issues – a date for fresh parliamentary elections, the fate of the current BSP leadership and the revived issue of the introduction of compulsory voting.

A new dimension of confusion followed after Sergei Stanishev, the embattled leader of the BSP, conceded that the party was prepared to hold talks with its coalition partner the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and other parties on early parliamentary elections, while Stanishev also caused surprise by speaking of a need to introduce compulsory voting.

This turnabout, after Stanishev’s party had sought to obstruct a proposal made in January by President Rossen Plevneliev for a referendum on electoral reform, including the question of compulsory voting, to held at the same time as the European Parliament vote, has been seized on as the issue of the day by several politicians.

As such, it has provided a distraction from when Bulgarians will get the chance to vote in the early parliamentary elections that the majority have been demanding for close to a year. The Stanishev compulsory manoeuvre also has been seen as his revenge for MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan speaking publicly of the need for early elections.

On June 8, centre-right opposition GERB, the party that was in power from 2009 to 2013 and that won the most votes in both the May 2013 parliamentary and May 2014 European Parliament elections, said that it wanted the early parliamentary elections and the referendum that Plevneliev had called for on electoral reform to be held simultaneously at the end of September.

GERB’s proposed election date of the end of September is a nuanced change from its leader Boiko Borissov’s daily repeated calls for elections immediately, and is earlier than the timeframe proposed by Mestan, of the end of November or beginning of December.

Senior GERB MP Tsetska Tsacheva said that the party wanted the issue of a referendum on electoral reform to be put on to the agenda of the National Assembly in the coming week.

Tsacheva told a news conference that the three-month term provided by law for the National Assembly to propose a referendum expired on June 10.

Earlier, ahead of the European Parliament elections, the ruling axis was opposed to an electoral reform referendum as proposed by Plevneliev, coming up with a range of objections and of different approachs to the issue. It also emerged that a public petition to request the referendum had fallen short of the requisite number of valid signatures from Bulgarian citizens, though the ad hoc committee conducting the initiative was given more time to collect the valid signatures required.

Also on June 8, President Plevneliev told reporters that it seemed that Bulgaria was headed towards early parliamentary elections in the autumn. He added that there was national consensus that a referendum should be held on the voting system to be used by Bulgarians.

In his official reaction to the outcome of the European Parliament elections, given a few days earlier after the Central Election Commission announced the official results, Plevneliev said that the extensive use of preferential voting on May 25, the first time Bulgarian law had allowed it, showed that his initial call for a referendum on electoral reform should have been heeded.

On the question of early national parliamentary elections, Plevneliev said that he was willing to hold a series of talks with political party leaders to seek consensus on priority reforms ahead of such elections, but again underlined that he was refusing to be a behind-the-scenes broker of political deals.

It was not the role of the head of state to be such a broker, he said.

For Plevneliev, Bulgaria should take up five strategic priorities – reforms to the pension and education systems, to health care, and in the energy sector and European Union funds.

Meanwhile, as an issue on its own, compulsory voting was a matter on which there were divisions in the Bulgarian Socialist Party, reports said.

Should these reports be true, which appears quite probable, these divisions would be coming on top of the disarray in which the party has found itself since the European Parliament elections, which several voices – including some within the party itself – have pointed out as being the latest defeat in more than a decade over which BSP leader Stanishev has presided.

Stanishev has been mounting a holding action against early elections and the question of him hanging on to the leadership of the party because of another unresolved issue – the nomination of Bulgaria’s future European Commissioner, a post to which Stanishev himself is said to aspire.

Apart from the wider implications, a loss of the governing mandate for the BSP would also mean the official end of the shreds of its claim to have the legitimacy to be deciding on the European Commissioner. Stanishev also now, after the Mestan backing for early elections, has signalled a willingness to hold discussons on the future European Commissioner – a reverse from earlier insistence by the current government that it alone had the right to decide on this.

The MRF also seemed content to allow its erstwhile ruling axis ally to wriggle on the hook. On June 7, MRF MP Yordan Tsonev said that the initiative on the calling of early elections had to come from the BSP.

Early elections were inevitable, Tsonev said, but the timing had to be agreed with the BSP.

This is hardly even a figleaf for the BSP, which was mocked by GERB leader Boiko Borissov after the Mestan announcement gave talk of early elections an enhanced status. Scornfully, Borissov said earlier this week that it was clear that it was not the BSP, but the MRF that really had the mandate to govern.

From within the BSP, and hardly for the first time, senior member Georgi Kadiev said that the only way for the crisis in which the party found itself was the resignation of the entire leadership.

He said that this resignation should be genuine: “submit it, go out through the door and close it behind you”. The party was continuing with the same proceedings in the same way after every single election defeat, and this was getting it nowhere, according to Kadiev, who was a rival to Stanishev in a leadership challenge after the previous BSP election defeat.



The Sofia Globe staff

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