Bulgaria’s April 2021 parliamentary elections: Factfile

Bulgaria’s voters go to the polls on April 4 2021 in regular elections for the 45th National Assembly, the country’s unicameral Parliament. The official campaigning period is from March 5 to April 2. This is The Sofia Globe’s factfile.

Some of the key numbers and rules:

Eligible to vote: About 6.73 million people, according to provisional figures from the Central Election Commission (CEC). Bulgarian citizens over the age of 18, resident in the country or abroad, are eligible to vote. People serving a term of imprisonment are not allowed to vote.

Age of eligibility to be a candidate MP: 21.

Up for grabs: 240 seats.

Term of the National Assembly: Four years. The current, 44th, National Assembly was elected on March 26 2017 in ahead-of-term elections. The April 2021 parliamentary elections are the first since 2009 being held within the timeframe set by the constitution and law, instead of being ahead-of-term. They are also the first national elections in Bulgaria being held amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Electoral threshold: A party or coalition that gets a minimum four per cent share of the total vote is entitled to a share of seats.

Competing: 22 parties and eight coalitions.

Campaign rules: Campaigning in a language other than Bulgarian is against the law. Also forbidden are anonymous campaign materials and the use of state resources, for example official vehicles, for election campaigning.

Public media: During the official campaign period, election coverage and campaign advertising have separate special slots on the public broadcasters. Public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television has made a special effort to expand election coverage, including participation of smaller parties, especially in the light of the Covid-19 situation which necessitates an emphasis on campaigning via the broadcast media.

All paid party political broadcasts, or other advertising, are required by law to include a notice “buying and selling of votes is a crime”. Grammarians have complained about that construction, to no end.

Think about it: By law, April 3, the day before the election, is a “Day of Contemplation” on which no election campaigning is allowed.

Drink about it? There may be varying restrictions on sales of alcohol on and even before election day, generally ending when polls close. By law, these restrictions, if any, are up to individual municipalities to decree and are not decided at national level. Any ban on sales of alcohol also applies to foreigners who cannot vote.

Where to vote: Voters may use their personal identification number on the website of the Chief Registration and Administrative Services website, to find out at which polling station they should vote – https://www.grao.bg/elections/

Voting hours: Polls open at 7am and close at 8pm. Outside the country, the equivalent local times apply. Local election officials may allow those still queueing at the time polls close, to proceed to vote.

Methods of voting: Voters will have a choice between a paper ballot or using a voting machine. Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission (CEC) announced on December 30 that it had picked Ciela Norma as the winner in the tender to purchase 9600 voting machines.

Voting districts: For the parliamentary elections, Bulgaria is divided into 31 multi-member constituencies.

Voting abroad: So far, 76 foreign countries have given permission for the opening of polling stations for Bulgaria’s parliamentary elections. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a section on its website regarding the elections.

As of March 4, about 63 500 Bulgarians had given notice that they intend voting abroad. The largest number is in Turkey, about 15 000, followed by the United Kingdom, about 12 000, Germany 9500, Spain 6000 and the United States, 3900.

Even if a Bulgarian has given notice of intention of vote in a foreign country, if he or she is in Bulgaria on April 4, they may vote at the polling station for their permanent address, while being required to submit a special declaration provided on the spot.

The ‘I don’t support anyone’ option: Voters will have the option to vote “I don’t support anyone”. Such votes are counted towards voter turnout but do not influence the share-out of seats in Parliament.

Schools closing: Customarily, schools used as polling stations are closed on the day following the elections. In this case, April 5.

Time to say goodbye: The 44th National Assembly is scheduled to sit on March 5, and then go into recess, returning on March 25 for valedictory statements. During this time, however, Parliament may be recalled from recess.

Opinion polls: Bulgarian electoral law requires that the results of opinion polls published during the campaign period should specify the method, sample, and who paid for the poll, whether a third party or the agency itself.

Anti-Covid measures: There is a lengthy set of rules in effect in the course of the election process to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The Health Minister has appealed to those competing in the election to, as far as possible, campaign without gathering large groups of people together.

At all polling stations and in front of them, protective masks must be worn and a distance of 1.5 metres must be maintained.

Frequently touched surfaces must be disinfected regularly, windows should be open or rooms should be ventilated every hour.

Voters must show election officials their identity cards and place them on the table, with the officials verifying the data without touching the identity cards. Voters will be required to briefly remove their protective masks to confirm their identities.

As far as possible, pens to be used by the voters should be arranged so that a voter may pick up a pen without direct contact with the election officials. Pens must be disinfected after each use.

Disinfectant must be placed next to the voting machines and a voter must use it before voting.

Quarantined: Voters in quarantine because of the new coronavirus must apply to the CEC by April 1 inclusive to be able to vote using a mobile ballot box. When the team brings the ballot box, the quarantined person must wear a protective mask. As above, the voter must remove the protective mask briefly for the sake of identification, and the voter should disinfect his or her hands before taking the ballot. As far as possible, voters should use their own pens. If possible, the mobile ballot box should be disinfected after each vote.

What’s the bill, please? The Cabinet has allocated a budget of about 65 million leva (about 33.2 million euro) for the conduct of the parliamentary elections. This, however, does not include the price tag of the voting machines, more than 43 million leva. These sums make the April 2021 parliamentary elections the most expensive in Bulgaria’s modern history.

After the election:

According to the constitution, the President has up to a month after the elections to convene the National Assembly. Should the President not do so, Parliament may be convened by at least a fifth of its members.

After consultations with parliamentary groups, the President appoints a Prime Minister-designate nominated by the party that has won the highest number of seats in the National Assembly.

Should the Prime Minister-designate fail to form a government within seven days, the mandate is passed to the person designated by the second-largest parliamentary group. Should the second attempt at forming a government fail, the mandate goes to a minority parliamentary group of the President’s choice.

Should consultations on forming a government prove successful, the President asks the National Assembly to vote to elect the Prime Minister-designate.

If no agreement on forming a government is reached, the President appoints a caretaker government, dissolves the National Assembly and schedules new elections on a date two months hence.

(Archive photo: Interior Ministry)

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