Four days after Bulgaria’s National Assembly passed sweeping amendments to the country’s Electoral Code in a marathon 14-hour sitting, the senior partner in the government coalition, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB, has backtracked on the issue of preferential voting, which had been rendered all but meaningless by the bill.
GERB’s executive committee met on February 18, at Borissov’s request, and decided that the party would support efforts to roll back the changes, which were passed mainly with the votes of GERB’s own MPs and those from the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) on February 14.
This drew sharp rebukes from the largest opposition party in Parliament, the socialists, during an ill-tempered debate on the parliamentary floor. The socialists threatened to refer the bill to the Constitutional Court and the party’s executive body voted on February 17 to quit Parliament in protest.
One of the three parties in the nationalist United Patriots grouping, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, also opposed the preferential voting amendments, calling on President Roumen Radev to veto the bill.
Radev, during a trip to the town of Haskovo on February 15, said that he would “act institutionally” on the issue. “I will make a decision when the bill reaches me, I will consider how to act then,” he said.
GERB’s executive committee decided on February 18 that it would back a presidential veto. If Radev did not veto the amendments, the party’s MPs would table new amendments to re-instate the status quo – namely a five per cent validity threshold on preferential votes for European Parliament elections and seven per cent for national elections.
The amendments passed last week stated that preferential votes would only apply if the candidate in question received as many preferential votes as the number required to win an MP seat in their particular electoral district (or the nation-wide minimum required to win an MEP seat in European Parliament elections.) The threshold is seen as virtually impossible to attain.
GERB’s executive committee also decided in favour of opening the process of appointing a new line-up of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), with the term of the incumbent electoral body expiring in April. By law, the appointment must be made no sooner than three months and no later that one month before the current commission’s term ends.
In the February 14 Parliament sitting, GERB voted against the socialists’ proposal to start the process, arguing that it was unwise to overhaul the CEC line-up so close to the European Parliament elections in May and pointing out that the Electoral Code allows CEC members to stay on past their term in order to hold elections.
Despite GERB’s backtracking on the two main issues of contention, socialist leader Kornelia Ninova said on February 18 that it would not change her party’s decision to quit Parliament.
(Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov photo: gerb.bg)