Bulgaria’s April 2023 early parliamentary elections: Factfile

Bulgaria goes to the polls on April 2 2023 in early parliamentary elections, the fifth time in two years that the country elects a legislature.

The official campaign period begins as midnight brings March 3 (coincidentally, Bulgaria’s national day) and ends at midnight on March 31.

This is The Sofia Globe’s factfile:

A total of 14 parties and seven coalitions registered for the elections.

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

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.

Bulgarian citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote, but not if they are serving an effective term of imprisonment.

Bulgaria’s caretaker government initially approved funding of 87.7 million leva for the April 2 2023 early parliamentary elections, according to the government information service. On March 1, it allocated a further 6.44 million leva, for video surveillance of ballot counting.

For the April 2021 parliamentary elections, the government allocated a sum of 65.25 million leva, later adding 2.9 million leva for measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.

For the July 2021 early parliamentary elections, the sum allocated was 57.1 million leva, for the November 2021 combined presidential and early parliamentary elections, the sum allocated was 123.8 million leva, and for the October 2022 early parliamentary elections, 70.5 million leva.

Added together, the initial allocations for these five elections come to 413.69 million leva. That, however, does not provide the full picture, because elections also have seen additional spending, on items such as voting machines, finalised after the initial allocations.

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.

Following the close of the official campaign period, October 1 will be a “Day of Contemplation” during which canvassing is forbidden.

From the end of the campaign period until after 8pm on October 2, 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 elections in Bulgaria.

On April 2, 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.

In December 2022, the 48th National Assembly approved amendments to the Electoral Code reinstating the paper ballot as an alternative to machine voting, and the manual count of the ballots.

Machine voting will not be available in polling stations with less than 300 voters, in mobile voting and in medical institutions or social care homes, and on Bulgarian-flagged vessels

Another amendment to the Electoral Code replaced the ballot booth with a screen. The election administration must make sure voters who are visually impaired or have difficulty moving can vote, and that the screens do not obstruct their movement.

In line with another amendment, the e-government ministry has said that it was developing a website to livestream video surveillance of the vote count in each polling station. If the system works, footage from close to 12 000 polling stations would be livestreamed simultaneously.

On February 24, Sofia Administrative Court overturned a controversial February 20 decision by the Central Election Commission to record the results of paper ballot and machine voting together on tally sheets. The court revoked this as unlawful. The commission decided against appealing against the court ruling.

While exit polls will be made known publicly on election night, the Central Election Commission has until April 6 to publish the official results of the election and until April 9 to announce the names of those who have been elected as MPs.

An MP elected from more than one electoral district must declare from which one that MP will be deemed to have been elected. There is a 24-hour deadline to do so.

Members of the 49th National Assembly elected on April 2 will receive a basic salary of 6351 leva a month, before additional pay for being, for example, a presiding officer, leader of a parliamentary group, a member of a standing or ad hoc committee. The basic pay for the Speaker will be 9844 leva a month.

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 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 from the date on which Parliament is dissolved.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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