The Bulgarian Parliament’s second day of voting on the second reading of changes to the country’s election laws saw sundry dramatic twists, including a surprise visit to the National Assembly by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov for talks with a minority coalition partner.
On April 21, Bulgaria’s MPs had approved making voting in national elections compulsory, and had voted to scrap a statutory link between the holding of referendums and the holding of national elections – the latter a move widely seen as intended to scupper a referendum this year resulting from an initiative by a television talk-show host.
On April 22, MPs voted to limit the opening of polling stations outside the country only to Bulgaria’s diplomatic and consular missions – a move clearly directed against opposition party the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), which in all recent elections has garnered massive numbers of votes at polling stations in Turkey.
The move to limit voting abroad only to diplomatic and consular missions was proposed by the nationalist Patriotic Front and was approved overwhelmingly, except, predictably, by the MRF.
The vote in favour was an apparent consequence of impromptu talks in the Speaker’s office between Patriotic Front co-leader Valeri Simeonov and Prime Minister and GERB party leader Boiko Borissov.
Simeonov confirmed to reporters that he had asked for the talks in the light of controversy about the measures voted on the previous day, and concerns about the remainder of proposed measures to be voted on in the Electoral Code amendments. The Patriotic Front also reportedly was irritated by opposition from the Reformist Bloc, another government coalition partner, to some of the amendments approved on Thursday.
Some Reformist Bloc MPs also were concerned by the new rule on voting abroad, though the bloc was split. Among its MPs present, seven voted in favour and four against. Three Reformist Bloc MPs abstained.
Irked by the provision limiting polling stations to diplomatic representations, the MRF’s Cetin Kazak said that the previous day, compulsory voting had been legislated, and so the state should enable all citizens to vote freely. He said that the new rule would limit the rights of more than a million Bulgarian citizens abroad to vote.
Kazak said that approval of the provision would mean that the MRF would be a “forceful and uncompromising” opposition to any proposal that came from the ruling majority from now on.
GERB indicated that it would probably put forward a proposal to legislate the option to vote electronically from abroad. GERB parliamentary group leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that it was possible that electronic voting may be introduced on an experimental basis in the presidential elections in the autumn.
PF co-leader Simeonov, speaking at a joint news conference with GERB’s Tsvetanov, said that “we are extremely pleased” with the approval of the rule restricting voting abroad to diplomatic and consular missions. He said that this was the “most economical” manner of holding elections abroad.
Tsvetanov denied that the new rule would impose restrictions on Bulgarians abroad exercising their constitutional right to vote.