Beach or ballot box? Bulgaria set for referendum in the summer

Bulgaria’s Parliament has rescinded a law that required that if a referendum is called in an election year, it should be held on the same day as the election – a move made with the apparent intention of sinking the prospects of a referendum to be held on a series of questions raised in a public petition.

Bulgaria is to hold a presidential election in 2016, probably at the end of October or beginning of November.

Under the previous version of the Electoral Code, the referendum would have been held on the same day as the first round of the presidential elections.

But, approving the second reading of amendments to the Electoral Code on April 21 2016, MPs scrapped the rule linking the holding of referendums to the holding of elections.

The breaking of the link was proposed by Mihail Mikov, leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), and was approved by 119 votes in favour, 15 against, with five abstentions. Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, the largest in Parliament, voted to support the BSP proposal.

Others voting in favour of the amendment included MPs from the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the nationalist Patriotic Front, and minority party the Bulgarian Democratic Centre. The only group to vote against the amendment was the centre-right Reformist Bloc coalition.

Separately, Parliament will vote after the 12-day recess that the legislature has awarded itself for the Orthodox Christian Easter on a date for the referendum. This means that the vote will happen on or perhaps slightly after May 11.

The likely date for the referendum will be some time in July or August, a time when Bulgaria largely comes to a halt because of the peak of the summer holiday season.

All this has taken place against a background of a petition lodged with Parliament earlier in 2016 which was raised by Slavi Trifonov, host of a late-night television show. The petition called for a referendum on a number of issues. A check by officials established that the number of valid signatures on the petition exceeded the statutory minimum to compel the calling of a referendum.

BTV, the local television station on which Trifonov’s show appears, reported a member of Trifonov’s team, Toshko Yordanov, as saying that the referendum would now be doomed to failure because no one would go to the ballot box during the summer holiday season.

For the outcome of a referendum to be valid, turnout must be a certain percentage of the turnout in the most recent national election. Failure to achieve this, depending by how much, either invalidates the result entirely or leaves a final decision in the hands of the National Assembly.

In the National Assembly, the Reformist Bloc’s Martin Dimitrov spoke against splitting the holding of the referendum and the holding of the presidential election, saying that doing so would cost the state twice the money.

Dimitrov said that the hidden aim was for low turnout in the referendum to invalidate its results.

Yanaki Stoilov of the BSP said, referring to a clause approved earlier in the day on April 21, that voter turnout would not be lowered because Parliament had made voting in elections compulsory.

In other voting on April 21 on a series of proposed amendments to the Electoral Code, MPs rejected the creation of separate electoral districts for voters abroad. This was in spite of the proposal having been approved at committee level before reaching the House.

The proposal to create a constituency “Abroad” was rejected by 137 votes, with 18 against and two abstentions. Those in favour of rejecting the proposal included GERB, the MRF, BSP, PF, ABC, BDC and Ataka. The Reformist Bloc and two independents voted against.

It was a turnabout for Borissov’s GERB party, which had proposed the establishment of a constituency for Bulgarians voting abroad. The turnabout followed talks between GERB and the ABC and PF – two of the minority parties in the coalition governmetn deal, which were opposed to the idea.

Rejection of the idea of a constituency for voters abroad means the retention of the status quo, by which votes from abroad are distributed within the country.




The Sofia Globe staff

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