Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted on April 28 to rescind a decision it took a week previously that would have de-linked the holding of referendums and elections.
This means that Bulgarian election law now reverts to the rule that in a year in which an election is scheduled, if a referendum is called then the referendum should be held on the same date as the election.
The manoeuvring about linking referendums and elections was centred on the fact that Bulgaria is headed towards holding a referendum this year, not because it was initiated by politicians but because of a petition raised by a talk show host, Slavi Trifonov.
The earlier amendment to the Electoral Code, which had been approved at second reading, was seen as a means of sinking Trifonov’s referendum. To be valid, the outcome of a referendum has to match or exceed voter turnout in the most recent national election.
De-linking the referendum from the election would have enabled the holding of the referendum in the peak summer season, when Bulgarians are much more likely to head for the beach than the ballot box.
But towards the close of what has been a series of frequently fiery days of controversy about sundry amendments to the Electoral Code, the provision about referendums was among those changed – a week after being approved.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Tsetska Tsacheva – a senior member of GERB, the majority party in the coalition government – denied that the de-linking vote had been motivated by Trifonov’s referendum.
Tsacheva, who apologised to the legal affairs committee for the fact that the de-linking had been approved by the National Assembly last week, told MPs that Prime Minister Boiko Borissov had expressed the view that referendums should continue to be conducted under the previous rules.
Bulgaria is to hold presidential elections in 2016, probably at the end of October or beginning of November, and given the reversion to the previous election law, it is expected that the referendum will be held then.
The petition for the referendum proposed a number of questions, including on halving the number of members of the National Assembly.
The petition had more than 672 000 signatures. A check by officials found that about 572 000 were valid. Under Bulgarian election law, a petition for a referendum submitted to the National Assembly bearing at least 400 000 valid signatures of citizens eligible to vote compels the calling of a referendum.