Rossen Plevneliev and two of his predecessors as Bulgaria’s President have described the October 2015 national referendum as a success for Bulgarian civil society and called for expansion of the role of direct democracy in the country.
Plevneliev, in his fourth year as head of state, on January 25 hosted Petar Stoyanov (president from 1997 to 2002) and Georgi Purvanov (holder of the office from 2002 to 2012) at a “Council of Presidents” meeting, an annual gathering initiated by Plevneliev in 2013. The gathering is held around the time of the January 22 date that is traditional for a new Bulgarian president to take office.
For the first time, not present was Zhelyu Zhelev, Bulgaria’s first democratically-elected head of state, who died on January 30 2015, Zhelev’s last public appearance having been at the Council of Presidents meeting a few days earlier last year.
The referendum to which Plevneliev, Stoyanov and Purvanov referred was on whether to introduce electronic online voting in future Bulgarian elections and referendums.
Initially, Plevneliev had proposed a total of three questions but the National Assembly agreed only to a referendum on one.
A total of 69.5 per cent of Bulgarians who voted in the October 2015 referendum were in favour and 26 per cent voted against, with the remaining 4.5 per cent of ballots declared invalid.
The results of the plebiscite were not legally binding because turnout, at 39.7 per cent, failed to clear the 48.7 per cent threshold – under Bulgarian law, national referenda are binding on Parliament if turnout exceeds the turnout figure in the previous national election, which in this case was the October 2014 parliamentary election. Because turnout did exceed 20 per cent, the National Assembly was required to debate the issue.
After the referendum, Plevneliev hailed it as a success and as proof that Bulgarians wanted to take an active part in decision-making in the state, but he criticised political parties for their inactivity on the issue ahead of the referendum.
Bulgaria’s MPs approved on January 21 2016 a resolution on the introduction of electronic voting in elections, with 136 votes in favour and 56 against.
A statement after the January 25 2016 Council of Presidents meeting said that Plevneliev, Stoyanov and Purvanov had taken stock of the past year and the crises confronting Bulgaria both domestically and internationally.
The three expressed hope that 2016 would be the year in which judicial reform will be implemented, and people will gradually feel the results of the changes.
Plevneliev, Stoyanov and Purvanov agreed that reforms must continue at an accelerated pace.
“Justice must be everywhere in public life. This means mostly care for the poor and inclusion of all groups in society. The state should make concerted efforts to combat social inequalities and the integration of marginalised groups in society. Institutions should work in favour of citizens to gradually regain their confidence,” the President’s office statement said.
The three strongly condemned all forms of terrorism, and were adamant that terrorism is a global threat that requires a united and decisive response. They underlined the necessity to ensure the safety of people and to protect democratic values.
The three agreed on the need for a pan-European approach to the aftermath of the unprecedented pressure of migration and the ensuing refugee crisis in Europe.
“The presidents believe that the efforts of European leaders and the international community should be focused on eliminating the root causes and not just the effects of the crises,” the statement said.
A quarter century after the beginning of the democratic changes and the creation of Bulgaria’s presidential institution, Plevneliev, Stoyanov and Purvanov decided to initiate the creation of the Presidential Library.
This, the statement said, would enable citizens to learn more about the traditions and achievements of the institution and would create the opportunity for direct access to extensive information about the work of the Bulgarian presidents during their terms of office.
“The Presidential Library is envisaged to become a place for debate and civic education,” the statement said.
Bulgaria is to hold presidential elections in autumn 2016, probably at the end of October. Plevneliev is eligible for a second and final term, but he has not spoken publicly as to whether he will make himself available for re-election. Boiko Borissov’s GERB, on whose ticket Plevneliev stood in the 2011 presidential elections, also has not made clear who its candidate will be.
Both Stoyanov and Purvanov have had political careers after being of state.
Stoyanov, the candidate of the centre-right Union of Democratic Forces, was defeated in the 2001 presidential elections by Purvanov, who then was the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party. Stoyanov was elected an MP on the UDF ticket in 2005, becoming the first and so far only former head of state to stand in a parliamentary election, and later the same year was elected UDF leader as the party sought to regain its former pre-eminence. Stoyanov stood as a candidate MEP in Bulgaria’s May 2007 European Parliament elections, but failed to get elected, and two days after the election, Stoyanov resigned as UDF leader.
Purvanov, so far the only Bulgarian President to have two terms as head of state, sought after leaving office to get back the BSP leadership from his former protégé, Sergei Stanishev. Purvanov failed, and went on to transform the “civic movement” that he had founded while still in office as President, ABC, into a political party. ABC, which attracted some defections of Purvanov loyalists from the BSP, got 11 seats in the 240-seat National Assembly elected in October 2014 and now is a minority partner in Prime Minister Borissov’s coalition Cabinet, with Purvanov’s close ally Ivailo Kalfin as one of four deputy prime ministers.
(Photo, of Purvanov, Plevneliev and Stoyanov: president.bg)