Bulgaria’s political crisis: Scant chance election rules will change before 2017 vote

Bulgaria’s political crisis: Scant chance election rules will change before 2017 vote

In spite of the outcome of Bulgaria’s controversy-ridden November 2016 national referendum on changes to the political system – including on introducing a majoritarian election system for MPs and slashing political party subsidies – there is scant chance the rules will be changed before the early parliamentary elections in 2017.

A consensus appears to be emerging among parties in the current Parliament that Electoral Code amendments are to be left to the next legislature. In any case, there appears little enthusiasm among the political establishment for a majoritarian electoral system for Parliament.

The November 2016 referendum outcome is not legally binding on Parliament, because turnout fell below the threshold to make it so. That turnout was too low to be binding remains disputed. Slavi Trifonov, a leader in initiating the referendum, met Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov on December 5, presenting what he alleged to be irregularities during voting on the referendum.

In the referendum, while – as noted – the result was not binding, there was large majority support among voters for introducing a majoritarian system and cutting state subsidies for parties from the current 11 leva a vote to just one lev.

After the outcome, Parliament’s current largest party, Boiko Borissov’s GERB, as well as second-ranked parliamentary group the Bulgarian Socialist Party, indicated that they would “respect the will of the voters” and back the changes proposed in the referendum.

But no one should expect changes in the near future.

GERB MP Danail Kirilov, head of the parliamentary legal committee, said that his party would submit legislative changes arising from the referendum, but not to provide for changes to the Electoral Code to introduce a majoritarian vote in the parliamentary elections coming in spring 2017.

“We support the result of the referendum and stand firmly behind the vote of the electorate,” Kirilov aid.

He said that this was the position only of GERB and at the moment it was seeking support from other parties. However, Kirilov said that amendments should not be made on a piecemeal basis, when it came to important changes such as rewriting the electoral system to introduce a majoritarian system.

Kirilov said that Bulgaria should comply with the international standard of good practice set by the Venice Commission, to not change electoral law fewer than six months before an election.

Few could fail to notice that Bulgaria’s legislators have hardly kept the Venice Commission recommendations in recent years – among the most striking examples being amendments voted just a few weeks before the November 2016 presidential elections.

Kirilov said that GERB was ready to propose amendments to scrap state subsidies for parties in Parliament entirely, but said that this could not have happened in the Budget 2017 bill because doing so would require changes to a number of other laws.

Bulgaria’s National Assembly last week gave final approval to Budget 2017, leaving the 11 leva-a-vote subsidy in place.

The Reformist Bloc’s Dimitar Delchev said that there was not enough time for the current Parliament to make changes to the electoral laws, adding that doing so now would pose the risk that the changes would be made only for the sake of those in power trying to achieve a walkover in the next parliamentary elections.

Delchev said that changing to a majoritarian electoral system would not solve the problems of votes bought by the “corporate vote” nor the problem of (alleged) manipulation of voting record protocols.

The nationalist Patriotic Front is strongly against a majoritarian system, with PF co-leader Valeri Simeonov warning against “going the populist route into which the whole Bulgarian national fell with the so-called referendum”.

“The truth is that the vast majority of those two million or so who voted for it did not know what they are voting for,” Simeonov said.

Reports after the referendum claimed that on the day after it emerged that most of those who had voted in the poll had voted in favour of a majoritarian system, a predominant search on Google Bulgaria was “what is a majoritarian system?”.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party line is that the current Parliament has no credibility and should not be making changes to the electoral system.

BSP MP Philip Popov said that at least a year would be needed to draw constituency boundaries, if a fully majoritarian system was adopted. He also referred to the Venice Commission’s principle, of no changes fewer than six months before an election.

Both Bulgaria’s current and future presidents have spoken out against a majoritarian system.

In a December 2 television interview, current President Rossen Plevneliev said that it would not lead to anything good for Bulgaria. Plevneliev added that rushing electoral system changes would be tragic and could have dramatic consequences for Bulgarian statehood.

Roumen Radev, who will become Bulgaria’s President on January 22 2017, said in the past week that Bulgaria was “not ready” for a 100 per cent majoritarian vote. Radev prefers a mixed system, partly proportional representation and partly majoritarian.

So far, the only form of possible amendments was one presented to Parliament by national Ombudsman Maya Manolova, envisaging the introduction of majoritarian voting, though she said she was not the author of the draft. Manolova said that personally, she preferred a mixed system, half of the MPs elected by proportional representation and the other half through a majoritarian system./IBNA