There is no more powerful tool to increase citizens’ confidence than a referendum, Bulgarian head of state President Rossen Plevneliev told the National Assembly on July 28, making the case for a referendum on three questions on electoral reform proposed for October 25.
The proposal is to hold the referendum on the three questions along with scheduled mayoral and municipal elections, the first round of which will be held on the last Sunday in October.
Plevneliev has long been campaigning for a referendum on electoral reform, but his proposals were blocked by the previous parliament, at the time of the now-departed ruling axis of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Movement for Rights and Freedoms in 2013 and 2014.
The questions proposed for the referendum are whether some of the members of the National Assembly should be elected on a majoritarian basis, whether compulsory voting in elections and national referendums should be introduced, and whether electronic voting in elections and national referendums should be allowed.
Plevneliev told MPs that he was confident that if referendums strengthened the role of Bulgaria’s life, everyone would benefit – parties, citizens and institutions.
“I believe that good regulation and organisation of this most powerful instrument of direct democracy can make the political system in the country far more resilient and stable,” he said.
The referendum was as important as judicial reform, Plevneliev said. The prime causes of the big problems in Bulgaria included the judicial system and the electoral process.
He described compulsory voting as the “medicine” that could help “a young democracy like ours”.
“The state institutions represent citizens less and less. There is no doubt that estrangement and apathy find expression in promises that were quickly forgotten. However, it seems as if the right time to overcome this problem has come,” Plevneliev said.
A majoritarian system would preserve multi-party diversity but also would allow Bulgarians to vote for individuals. Such a system would allow Bulgarians who had gained public trust to take part in political life.
Responding to challenges raised, since he first proposed a majoritarian element, to say just what proportion of MPs should be elected in this way, Plevneliev said that it was not proper for the President to specify this.
On electronic voting, he said that it had many benefits, but said that the most important that it would be a step in the direction in which humanity was heading.
“We already daily use the opportunities that technology provides us. Electronic voting is the future, it will certainly happen. The question is not if, but when.”
In this way, more than a million and a half Bulgarian citizens worldwide would be able to contribute to the future of the country, said Plevneliev, adding that he did not agree that millions of Bulgarians should be excluded from political life only because they found work abroad.
“Our compatriots abroad are not indifferent to what is happening in our country. They have attitudes and opinions, expecting to be able to exercise their constitutional right to participate in elections and referendums from anywhere in the world,” Plevneliev said.
Holding the referendum along with municipal elections would put as little additional strain on the budget as possible, he said.
“The practice of many progressive societies shows that the combination of both types of voting allows direct and representative democracy to interact, strengthening the democratic foundations of the state,” Plevneliev said.