Voting opened on October 25 in Bulgaria’s municipal elections, alongside which a national referendum is being held on whether to introduce online voting in future polls.
At stake in the mayoral and municipal elections is control of major cities and towns and hundreds of municipalities across the country. The 2015 municipal elections are scheduled ones, after the previous such vote, in October 2011 when first-round turnout was said by the Central Election Commmission to be 51.6 per cent. That year, municipal elections were held at the same time as the election of the President, Bulgaria’s head of state.
Seventy-one political parties and three coalitions are participating at national level in the municipal elections.
The October 25 2015 referendum is Bulgaria’s second in recent years. A January 2013 referendum on the future of nuclear power produced a turnout of a mere 20.22 per cent, too low to be binding on the National Assembly.
President Rossen Plevneliev, in an address to the nation on public broadcasters Bulgarian National Television and Bulgarian National Radio on October 23, issued an appeal to the electorate to “vote massively”.
“We stand the great chance to promote what is new and different in politics. We will choose between the option of being given pre-election promises and thereafter be left in oblivion until the next elections and having a say on every important for the country issue. This is what direct democracy offers – to have not only the voice of our representatives but also our own voice heard. We should promote direct democracy and the referendums in Bulgaria by voting massively on Sunday. Let all of us vote ‘for”’or ‘against’ the introduction of online voting. No matter how we vote at the referendum, our vote is important because it is a vote for more democracy,” Plevneliev said.
Plevneliev said that in the referendum, the concrete question is clear and is extremely important in itself because it is a question about how the Bulgarian people will elect their representatives.
“However, there is one more question – will referendums principally be conducted in Bulgaria or will we once again give the political forces the chance to compete in populism instead of listening to the people,” he said.
Voting day was preceded by a “day of contemplation” on October 24, on which canvassing was banned, as was the publication of the results of opinion polls. In these elections, however, the campaign period has been characterised by the absence of the results of surveys by any significant polling agency. The “day of contemplation” passed with very few infringements of the rules. Separately, law enforcement agencies began a countrywide operation on October 23, against violations of electoral law – in particular, vote-buying.
Voting on Sunday opened at 6am and was due to continue to 7pm, although in the event of queues at the time that voting was due to end, voting could be extended to 8pm.
About 6.3 million Bulgarians are eligible to vote in the municipal elections and about 6.8 million in the national referendum. In the municipal elections, citizens of other EU countries resident in Bulgaria are eligible to vote, provided that they met the deadline several weeks ago to register to do so. Five citizens of other EU countries were standing as candidate councillors in various towns. A total of 523 EU citizens resident in Bulgaria registered to vote.
In Bulgaria, there are more than 12 000 polling stations.
To enable voting abroad in the referendum, there are a total of 294 polling stations outside Bulgaria, in 45 countries. The largest number is in the UK, 44, in Spain and the United States, 40, in Germany, 22 and in Greece, 18.