Bulgaria’s National Assembly approved on July 13 the second reading of amendments to the Electoral Code that set controversial rules for voting abroad.
In Bulgaria’s 240-member Parliament, the vote was 100 in favour, 25 against and there were eight abstentions.
The bill provides for a limit of 35 polling stations in a country outside Bulgaria for voting in national elections and referendums.
For a polling station to be opened in a place other than a diplomatic or consular mission, 60 citizens will have to lodge an application. However, the final decision on opening a polling station will be taken by the Central Election Commission.
The changes, proposed by the nationalist Patriotic Front (PF), which supports the government without holding any Cabinet seat, are widely seen as directed against the emigre vote in Turkey, traditional stronghold of the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), currently the third-largest party in the National Assembly.
Krassimir Karachanov of the PF insisted that the changes were not directed against the MRF, but against what he described as the interference of Turkish president Erdogan.
The proposals have been controversial for months and an earlier version of the Electoral Code was vetoed by President Rossen Plevneliev, although this veto was overriden by the National Assembly – ahead of new amendments.
MRF MP Chetin Kazak said that Bulgarian citizens in Turkey were not a threat to national security that their opportunity to vote should be restricted. He said that Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party had supported the bill because the PF had made this a condition of continuing to support the government in Parliament.
Lyutvi Mestan, the ousted former MRF leader who is currently amid a court process to register his new DOST party, described the legislation as discrimination on ethnic grounds, and said that GERB would go down in history for this shameful act.
Radan Kanev, of the opposition Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, asked from the floor impeded or facilitated voting. Kanev said that in some foreign countries, 35 polling stations would be inadequate.
Kanev said that 200 000 Bulgarians would be changing their status, from living in the EU to living beyond its borders, because of the decision by their host the United Kingdom.
GERB’s Danail Kirilov, head of the National Assembly committee on legal affairs, said that the limit on the number of polling stations was consistent with the maximum voter turnout at Bulgarian polling stations in the United States and United Kingdom.
Kirilov said that the mode of voting would be the same whether or not the UK was a member of the EU.