Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov is to hold talks on April 26 with the four parties in the governing coalition amid controversy over changes to the election law approved by Parliament.
A number of the amendments have caused protests among Bulgarians abroad and within the country, while the ABC minority party has threatened to quit the coalition government if the amendments go ahead in their current form.
Borissov’s GERB party said that he would meet representatives of his party, the Reformist Bloc coalition, the Patriotic Front and ABC. He said that he wanted proceedings streamed online.
The Reformist Bloc’s MPs mostly voted against some of the more controversial provisions of the Electoral Code amendments, including the introduction of compulsory voting in elections, the de-linking of the holding of elections and referendums, the dropping of a proposal to create a separate voting district for the electorate outside Bulgaria.
Borissov already has been directly involved in amendments that were approved, attending an impromptu meeting on April 22 which resulted in the approval of a clause that will limit the opening of polling stations abroad only to the offices of embassies and consulates. This provision prompted Bulgarians in the UK and Belgium to protest this past weekend, and a petition against it, addressed to the President, Parliament and Prime Minister, has been initiated online.
Bulgarians abroad object to the provision because, they say, it will practically disenfranchise or obliged them to travel hundreds of kilometres to the nearest embassy.
Reports cited the example of Stuttgart and the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where in the most recent election, 6500 Bulgarians voted. The changed provision would mean that to vote, they would have to travel to Munich or Frankfurt. Even with another provision that lengthens the election day, not all might be able to reach the polling stations in time.
Another source of concern among Bulgarian citizens and within the ruling coalition is a statement by GERB deputy leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov that electronic voting would be introduced as from this autumn’s presidential elections. The concern is that it would be risky to do so without proper testing ahead of full implementation, which could take at least a year.
Valeri Simeonov, co-leader of the Patriotic Front and who tabled the provision limiting the opening of polling stations to diplomatic offices abroad, defended the provision showed that the majority of votes abroad went to the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, when the law allowed the opening of polling stations anywhere where a minimum number of voters requested this.
“I do not know of any other country that opens polling stations outside embassies during elections. This costs our country a lot,” Simeonov said.
Compulsory voting also has been controversial. The opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms has said that it intends raising signatures to petition the Constitutional Court about the provision, and is confident that it will win a Constitutional Court challenge. Another voice against compulsory voting has been that of Borissov himself, though he said that he would go along with the vote that his party had cast to support the introduction of mandatory voting.
In Bulgaria, the Protest Network, which emerged during the 2013/14 protests against the “Oresharski” government, announced a protest to be held in front of the National Assembly on April 25 at 6.30pm against what the network described as the “arrogance” of various provisions, including the introduction of compulsory voting, the rejection of a separate constituency for voters abroad, the de-linking of the holding of referendums and elections and the “hasty” introduction and “likely orchestrated failure” of electronic voting.