Bulgaria’s Justice Ministry has made public draft legislative amendments that could effectively limit the right of Bulgarians living abroad to vote, by introducing a domicile requirement for voting in parliamentary and presidential elections.
The draft amendments would see the Electoral Code amended so that Bulgarians would be able to vote not only if they meet the requirements of article 42 of the constitution, but also that they have lived on the territory of Bulgaria for the three months preceding a parliamentary or presidential election.
It is questionable whether this amendment would survive a challenge in the Constitutional Court.
The posting online of the proposed amendments comes after the campaign ahead of Bulgaria’s March 2017 parliamentary elections was dominated by controversy about the influence of Bulgarian passport-holders resident in Turkey.
Bulgarians in Turkey made up the largest number of people who gave notice of their intention to vote abroad. At the same time, given the limitation on the number of polling stations in Turkey, because it is not a European Union country and Bulgarian law limits polling stations in such cases to no more than 35, numerous Bulgarian passport-holders crossed the Turkish border to vote in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria’s constitution says the franchise is the right of those citizens who are 18 and older and who are not serving a custodial sentence.
There are domicile qualifications for municipal and European Parliament elections, but these are possible because the constitution says that these are governed by a special law. The rules for voting in parliamentary and presidential elections are fixed in the constitution.
The Justice Ministry’s bill argues, however, that because the Constitutional Court had no objection to the domicile requirements for municipal and European Parliament elections, the principle of a domicile requirement is “generally not unconstitutional”.
In the previous Parliament, nationalists favoured the introduction of a domicile requirement but this was opposed by the majority.
The amendments also propose widening the powers of the Prosecutor-General, to enable the occupant of that office to approach the Central Election Commission to cancel the registration of a party if religious institutions are involved in its campaign.
The proposed Electoral Code amendments introduce a new article, according to which each candidate will sign a declaration that they will use only the Bulgarian language in campaigning. These declarations will have to be presented by the party, coalition or initiative committee to the relevant Electoral Commission for the registration of candidate lists.
Proposed amendments to the Political Parties Act add a new basis for cancellation of the registration of political parties by the Sofia City Court. This will be done with those that systematically include religious institutions and their representatives in the political and organisational activities in campaigning and electioneering. This would take effect when the law is broken in this way three or more times in a year.
The amendments also propose that donations to political parties would be permissible only from Bulgarian citizens.
(Archive photo: podtepeto.com)