Bulgaria’s Parliament rejected on June 17 proposals to hold a referendum on electoral rules, proposed earlier this year by President Rossen Plevneliev.
Several motions have been put forward, with the main divisive issue being whether to include all three questions suggested by Plevneliev in January – making it possible to elect some of the lawmakers by majoritarian vote, the introduction of electronic voting and whether Bulgaria should make voting in elections and national referenda compulsory.
The main opposition party, former prime minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB, which helped collect the bulk of the signatures for the referendum petition, voted in favour of proposals that included all three questions.
The party that holds the government mandate, the socialists, backed only one of the three questions, namely making voting compulsory – but only for Bulgarian citizens residing in the country – and coupled with sanctions on those who do not vote.
Following the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s heavy defeat in the European Parliament elections last month, the party made a sudden policy shift to support mandatory voting. Local observers interpreted the change as an attempt to “punish” ruling axis coalition partner, the predominantly ethnic Turk MRF, for demanding snap parliamentary elections before the end of the year.
BSP remains steadfastly opposed to introducing electronic voting or majoritarian elements, as such changes would likely reduce its parliamentary standing, analysts said. (That is also the reason why the socialists did not want to extend mandatory voting to Bulgarians residing abroad, because it consistently scores very few votes among expatriate Bulgarians.)
MRF, for its part, opposed all motions to hold the referendum, while MPs for the ultra-nationalist party Ataka did not take part in the National Assembly sitting.
Ataka failed to make the threshold to win even one MEP seat, is unlikely to feature in the next National Assembly, according to opinion polls, and would see its slim chances diminished even further by an increased voter turnout if a referendum were to be held at the same time with the early parliamentary elections, tentatively scheduled for late-September or the first half of October.