A day ahead of a special sitting of Bulgaria’s Parliament and with less than three weeks to go to the country’s November 2016 presidential elections, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party has tabled urgent amendments to the Electoral Code to address controversies over polling stations abroad and the “I don’t support anyone” option.
The damage control results from the majority coalition government partner being mired in controversy over Electoral Code amendments it backed earlier this year, although it now refuses to accept sole blame.
The October 17 tabling by GERB of amendments that would scrap limits on the number of polling stations abroad happened on the same day that these limits were challenged in the Constitutional Court by Ombudsman Maya Manolova. However, according to a report by Bulgarian National Radio, quoting what it said were sources at the court, it was highly unlikely that the court would pronounce on Manolova’s application before the elections.
The Electoral Code approved earlier in 2016 set a limit of 35 polling stations in each foreign country. The limit, proposed by the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, a minority partner in the coalition government arrangement, were directed against the Movement for Rights and Freedoms electorate in Turkey.
But the limit also has curtailed to 35 the number of polling stations in the United Kingdom and the United States, irking expatriate Bulgarians in those countries.
The GERB amendment to be tabled on October 18 would scrap the limit – a move that has prompted the Patriotic Front to threaten to withdraw its support for Borissov’s Cabinet. However, the GERB amendment proposes scrapping the limit in EU member states. This would therefore not include Turkey. In turn, it would also not include the US.
In an explanatory memorandum accompanying the new amendments, GERB said that they were being tabled because of the allegations in broad public debate about possible problems in the November 2016 presidential elections.
GERB said that the changes were being proposed to prevent “any suggestion in the public domain that the election process in the Electoral Code will be difficult”.
The amendments also address the controversy over the “I don’t support anyone” option in the presidential elections – which gives voters, faced with the new law making voting compulsory, the option of choosing none of the 21 candidates.
The controversy over that option is not that it is there, but over how those votes would be counted. Currently, such votes would be included in calculating voter turnout, but would not be counted as votes in the final result of the election itself. This methodology has been criticised by lawyers as unconstitutional.
GERB’s amendments would make these votes count as fully valid, meaning that they would be recorded in the final results of the election.
Coincidentally, the results of an Alpha Research poll released on October 17 showed that GERB candidate Tsetska Tsacheva had the most support, 29.3 per cent, BSP candidate Roumen Radev in second place (21.4 per cent) – and “I don’t support anyone” was in third place, at 10.8 per cent.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)