Bulgaria’s November 2021 elections: Factfile

Bulgarians go to the polls on November 14 2021 in simultaneous presidential and early parliamentary elections, with the official election campaign period having begun on October 15. This is The Sofia Globe’s factfile.

The presidential elections are regular ones, to vote into office a head of state for a five-year term beginning in January 2022. The elections for the 47th National Assembly are Bulgaria’s third parliamentary elections this year, after the legislatures elected in April and July, respectively, did not vote a government into office.

There are 23 presidential candidates. This is the highest number of candidates in a presidential election in Bulgaria since the country began direct democratic elections of its head of state. The previous largest numbers were in 1992 and 2016, a total of 21 each.

In the presidential election, to win at the first round, a candidate must get at least 50 per cent of valid votes, with voter turnout of at least 50 per cent. If a candidate does not achieve a first-round victory, a second round must be held, between the top two candidates from the first round. If in 2021 a second round is required, it is pencilled in for November 21.

In the parliamentary elections, 20 parties and seven coalitions are competing. There are several thousand candidates for the 240 seats in Bulgaria’s unicameral Parliament. MPs are elected from 31 multi-member electoral districts.

To win seats in the National Assembly, a party or coalition must get at least four per cent of valid votes cast.

In both the presidential and parliamentary elections, voters have the option to choose “I don’t support anyone”. Such votes are counted in when calculating turnout, but have no impact on the distribution of seats in the National Assembly.

About 6 708 000 Bulgarians, in the country and abroad, are eligible to vote. Bulgarian citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote, but not if they are serving an effective term of imprisonment.

As amended in 2021, after the April elections, Bulgarian electoral law requires that voting is done using a machine at any precinct where more than 300 voters are registered.

It is estimated that voting machines will be in use at 9400 polling stations, with two machines at more than 2000 polling stations.

The voting machine requirement has necessitated the acquisition of additional machines this year. Bulgaria acquired 9600 machines for the April elections and a further 1637 ahead of the July elections, and as The Sofia Globe reported at the time, on October 14, the Central Election Commission said that it had awarded a tender to acquire a further 1600 machines for the November elections.

Bulgaria’s caretaker government allocated on September 20 an amount of 123.8 million leva (about 63.3 million euro) for the preparation and holding of the country’s presidential and early parliamentary elections, a sum announced before the cost of the additional voting machines was known.

The official campaign period continues until midnight on November 12.

During the official campaign period, media publishing the results of opinion polls are required by law to include information, as provided by the polling agency, of items such as the methodology and sample size of the poll and how the poll was funded.

Coverage of the elections on public media is governed by law and by agreements between the heads of the public media and the parties and coalitions, as approved by the Central Election Commission.

Campaign materials, whether in print, on air or on billboards, are required by law to include the words “buying and selling of votes is a crime”.

Canvassing may be conducted solely in the Bulgarian language.

While electoral law governs media coverage, it is does not affect content on social networks such as Facebook, which are not defined in Bulgarian law as media providers.

During the campaign period, election materials may not include the coat or arms or the flag of Bulgaria or a foreign country, nor religious signs or images. Election advertising may not depict children.

Electoral law forbids the distribution of anonymous campaign materials and those that denigrate the “good morals, honour and dignity” of candidates.

Campaigning in state and municipal institutions and companies, as well as the use of state or municipal property by parties, coalitions, independent candidates and initiative committees, is prohibited.

It is expected that during the campaign period, the Dossier Commission, the body empowered by statute to disclose whether people in certain public walks of life were affiliated with Bulgaria’s communist-era secret services, will announce the results of its checks of presidential and parliamentary candidates. Bulgaria’s constitution does not allow lustration, so even if a candidate is announced to have worked for these services, this is no bar to being elected to office.

Details of polling stations abroad are expected to be announced later. The website of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a section dedicated to the November 2021 elections.

Following the close of the official campaign period, November 13 will be a “Day of Contemplation” during which canvassing is forbidden.

From the end of the campaign period until after 8pm on November 14, it is forbidden to make public the results of exit polls.

On election weekend, municipalities have the right to ban or restrict the sale of alcohol. There are 265 municipalities in Bulgaria, so such decrees – if issued – have to be checked individually. Any such ban also applies to foreigners ineligible to vote in presidential and National Assembly electiosn in Bulgaria.

As with the election campaign period, the conduct of voting on November 14 must comply with measures against the spread of Covid-19. Provision has been made for those in quarantine to be able to vote.

On November 14, voting opens at 7am and continues until 8pm. If there are still queues at 8pm, election officials are empowered to extend voting, but no later than 9pm. These same hours and rules apply at polling stations abroad, on the basis of local times.

While exit polls will be made known publicly on election night, the Central Election Commission has until November 16 to publish the official results of the presidential election and until November 18 to announce the distribution of seats in the next National Assembly. An MP elected from more than one electoral district has until November 19 to declare from which one that MP will be deemed to have been elected. The CEC has until the end of November 21 to declare the names of those who have been elected members of the National Assembly.

According to the constitution (to be found in English at this link), 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.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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