In recent years, Bulgarian authorities have eased restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages on election days, banning the sale and consumption of alcohol in the immediate vicinity of voting precincts, but allowing municipalities to set their own guidelines.
For the 2017 parliamentary elections on March 26, this has resulted in some discrepancies depending on where one finds themselves, with the one common thread being that shops nears schools – which are often the go-to location for a voting precinct – least likely to sell liquor.
As in previous elections, Sofia city hall was once again among those that decided on the most lax interpretation of the law, banning liquor sales only near voting precincts for the duration of the voting day. Cities like Rousse and Bourgas have also opted for a lax interpretation.
In Varna, by contrast, the ban applies throughout the city from midnight until voting closes at 8pm. Plovdiv and Stara Zagora have also opted to ban alcohol sales, while the town of Pernik banned the sale of alcohol starting from 6pm on March 25, until 8pm on election day.
As has now become traditional, festivities organised in advance – a clause usually reserved for weddings or other family events – are exempted from this ban. Alcohol bans are tied to Bulgaria’s “day of contemplation” practice, the day before the election when campaigning is banned in order to give voters the opportunity to make their choice without outside influence (campaigning on the day of election is likewise banned) and the election day itself, when it is meant to prevent breaches of public peace.
Another feature of the election day is some traffic and parking restrictions – in Sofia, the two main areas that will allow no parking on election day and will have traffic shutdown altogether after 8pm are the streets near the Universiada Hall and the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency (Poligraficheski Kombinat on Tsarigradsko Chaussee).
Those and other areas, the voting precincts mainly, will see increased police presence on election day, with the Interior Ministry saying that a total of 14 000 police officers would be deployed on March 26 to ensure a safe and orderly election day.
In other election day-related news, the weather forecast for March 26 envisions a cooling down over the weekend, with daily highs in the 14C-17C range. Scattered cloud cover will be present all over Bulgaria, with some short-lived rain showers.
(A standard notice for Bulgarian shops before election day. This one, in a Sofia shop before the presidential run-off in November 2016, informed customers that alcohol sales were prohibited, but beer was exempt from the ban. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)