Bulgarian head of state President Rossen Plevneliev has tabled in the National Assembly a proposal to hold a national referendum on three questions of electoral reform simultaneously with the first round of mayoral and municipal elections on October 25 2015.
This was announced by the President’s office on June 3, adding that he would address the nation that evening on public broadcasters Bulgarian National Radio and Bulgarian National Television at 8pm.
The statement said that following consultations with political parties and coalitions represented in Parliament, Plevneliev had decided to propose to MPs to schedule a national referendum with three questions.
These are, first, on whether a share of members of Parliament should be elected on a majoritarian basis, second, whether compulsory voting should be introduced in elections and national referendums and third, whether electronic voting should be allowed in elections and referendums.
The referendum idea is a revival of one that Plevneliev has been pushing since the time of the now-departed ruling axis of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Movement for Rights and Freedoms that was in power, with the assistance of far-right party Ataka, in 2013 and 2014.
Plevneliev tabled a request in the 42nd National Assembly for a referendum on issues including compulsory voting, electronic voting and a majoritarian element to the electoral system, but the proposal was blocked by the former ruling axis.
In February 2015, he told local media that he would again put the proposed referendum to Parliament.
The June 3 statement said that Plevneliev believed that the questions put to the (now-departed) 42nd National Assembly more than a year ago remained relevant today.
In spite of the broad support including from active civil society, expressed by the collection of more than 500 000 signatures, the previous parliament rejected the proposal by the citizenry and the President to hold a national referendum on the questions.
The President believes that the introduction of a mixed electoral system combines the advantages of majority and proportional system and reduces their drawbacks, the statement said.
He said that as head of state, he stood firmly behind the multi-party political system, which was one of the most valuable achievements of Bulgaria’s transition and under no circumstances should be rejected.
At the same time, through the introduction of a mixed electoral system in which some MPs were elected on a majoritarian basis and the rest via party lists, the diversity of parties would be retained while there would be voting for individuals, Plevneliev said in an explanatory memorandum.
Plevneliev said that compulsory voting in elections and national referendums would bring in Bulgarians who, for one reason or another, are alienated from political life.
“We must find a way to integrate them too into political life. The more citizens express their will, the more election results are legitimate and the more stable institutions,” he said.
He said that compulsory voting is a tool that would counteract the most vicious practices – corporate, manipulated or bought votes.
“Only by raising turnout will we reduce the burden of controlled votes,” he said.
Regarding the question of whether to introduce the possibility of electronic remote voting in elections and referendums, Plevneliev called for the introduction of remote electronic voting in compliance with the requirements of the constitution.
“This means of voting will lead to higher turnout and more people will feel politically represented. For more than 1.5 million of our compatriots abroad, and many people in the country who are not indifferent to the future of our country, it will be much easier to participate in elections and referendums,” Plevneliev said.
“I am convinced that if voters say ‘yes’ to electronic remote voting, a legislative solution can be found that would guarantee the secrecy of the vote, the expression of personal will and free choice. It is clear that this requires time and cannot happen overnight, but if citizens decide in favour of remote electronic voting, we will be obliged to work to introduce it,” he said.
Plevneliev said that there was no more powerful tool than a referendum to increase the confidence of citizens.
“The use of direct democracy is proof that politicians serve the people. I believe that with good regulation and organisation, this most powerful instrument of direct democracy can make the political environment in the country far more resilient and stable,” he said.
Plevneliev said that he hoped the referendum would open the way for referendums in the future.
“Holding a referendum is the only mechanism which can then make a binding decision, binding politicians. It is a tool to achieve genuine and sustainable democracy.”
To save taxpayers’ money, national referendums should be held alongside scheduled elections, he said.
Earlier on June 3, Plevneliev briefed European Union ambassadors on the plan to hold a referendum on electoral reform.
Meeting ambassadors of EU member states and the European Economic Area, he briefed them on the referendum plan, which he discussed the same day with Croatia’s Frano Matušic, the rapporteur for post-monitoring dialogue with Bulgaria for the Parliament Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
Matušic is visiting Bulgaria to June 5 and will hold a series of talks with the Bulgarian authorities.
According to a statement by the President’s office, Matušic said that a referendum on the electoral rights of citizens would contribute to a better quality of democracy in Bulgaria.
Plevneliev told Matušic that a referendum is a working tool of democracy, and the combination of direct democracy with representative would contribute to new dose of confidence in the institutions.
“If we want to improve our democracy, we have to empower the voice of the people to be heard,” Plevneliev said.