Sofia, March 10, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Bulgaria’s National Assembly approved at first reading on March 10 2016 amendments to the Electoral Act that would make voting in elections compulsory.
This was an issue proposed by President Rossen Plevneliev for a referendum in 2015, but the question was not put to the electorate after the National Assembly decided against including it in the poll, which was held solely on the question of introducing electronic voting as an option in elections and referendums.
Also approved at first reading were provisions for the creation of a separate voting district for Bulgarian voters outside the country and shortening the official campaign period from 30 days to 21 days.
A total of 14 proposed changes to election laws were presented to Bulgaria’s MPs for first-reading approval on March 10. They approved 11 of them.
The constituency for voters outside Bulgaria will be multi-mandate. Voters outide the country will be able to vote for candidate lists and exercise preferences for candidates when voting, and not merely for a party or coalition.
An election day will start at 7am instead of 6am and continue until 8pm and not 7pm.
To optimise the process of vote-counting, machine counting will be included in the process and the number of members of the regional and central election commissions will be increased. An increased number of voting districts will have voting machines.
The amendments approved envisage the creation of a commission on electronic voting. The bill allows two years for this to be set up.
If approved at second reading, there will be an explicit ban on employees of organised religion canvassing in elections. This is hardly known, but in the October 2015 municipal and mayoral elections in Bulgaria, the controversial Metropolitan of Plovdiv, Nikolai, openly campaigned for a mayoral candidate (who lost).
The bill envisages active registration of voters every 10 years and updating of voters’ rolls.
The amendments scrap the numbering of political parties and coalitions on ballot papers.
People serving jail sentences for less serious crimes will be entitled to vote.
The Central Election Commission CEC will have to adopt rules for the implementation of the Electoral Code. Provision is also made for increasing the number of members of the commission, and changes to the procedures for appointing members of the commission.
Provision is made for an increase in the threshold for preferential selection of candidate municipal councillors, by linking the requirement for minimum representation of choice through its alignment with the municipal electoral quota.
MPs rejected a proposal from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms to allow the use of languages other than Bulgarian in canvassing. The MRF, which has a track record of senior members having been fined for speaking in Turkish in election campaigns, repeatedly has put such a proposal in recent years, always to see it defeated.
Also rejected was the idea of a minimum educational qualification for voting.
Chetin Kazak, one of the triumvirate of temporary leaders of the MRF – a party that observers have suggested would be hard-hit by the introduction of compulsory voting – said that if the provision was also approved at second reading, the MRF would challenge it in the Constitutional Court. Kazak was a certain such a challenge would succeed.