Bulgaria’s election law drama continues after presidential veto

Bulgaria’s election law drama continues after presidential veto

Sofia, May 8, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said on May 8 that he believed that President Rossen Plevneliev was correct to veto amendments to the Electoral Code, and he was prepared to make changes but first would have to speak to minority coalition government partner the Patriotic Front.

Plevneliev’s office announced on May 7 that the head of state was sending back to the National Assembly controversial changes to the rules for voting abroad seen as limiting the franchise rights of Bulgarian expatriates.

It was the nationalist Patriotic Front, part of the governing coalition agreement although it does not have seats in the Cabinet, that drove these amendments, in a move largely seen as directed against the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and its electoral stronghold in Turkey.

The amendments vetoed by Plevneliev created different rules for opening polling stations in European Union and non-EU countries, and tightened the requirements for opening a polling station outside Bulgaria. After the National Assembly approved these amendments, protests by Bulgarians living in Western countries ensued, along with a petition signed by thousands calling on Plevneliev to impose a veto.

Reacting to the veto, Patriotic Front co-leader Valeri Simeonov called Plevneliev’s decision “treason”. Simeonov said that Plevneliev had made the move in a bid to get MRF votes in the autumn 2016 presidential elections (there is no confirmation that Plevneliev, elected in late 2011 on the ticket of Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, will be a candidate in the autumn).

Simeonov expressed confidence that sufficient votes could be mustered in the National Assembly to override Plevneliev’s veto.

Borissov said that he expected to meet on May 10 with the leaders of the Patriotic Front to find a “reasonable” way out of the problem.

Relations between GERB and the Patriotic Front were “much better” but if he had to choose between stability and democracy, he would choose people’s rights, Borissov said – a clear reference to concerns that failure to achieve agreement on amendments to the election law could see the PF march out of the coalition government deal.

Borissov said that the idea of the PF was a “noble” one, to protect national security, but at the same time he said that he completely disagreed that the way to solve the problem of election irregularities in Turkey was to limit the rights of Bulgarians in other places.

The second-largest partner in Bulgaria’s governing coalition, the Reformist Bloc, will meet on May 10 to decide its position on Plevneliev’s veto.

Meglena Kouneva, leader of one of the constituent parties of the Reformist Bloc and one of the deputy prime ministers in Borissov’s coalition government, told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio that the bloc’s meeting would have two goals, to create a “law of Bulgaria, not parties” and to maintain the stability of the government.

Chetin Kazak, of the opposition MRF, said that the President had vetoed too few of the Electoral Code amendments that Parliament had adopted. The MRF also had wanted to see Plevneliev veto the provision introducing compulsory voting in elections. The party intended taking this to the Constitutional Court, Kazak said.