Controversy continues over law on Bulgarians voting abroad

Controversy continues over law on Bulgarians voting abroad

Sofia, May 19, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

A day after President Rossen Plevneliev announced a constitutional court challenge to a controversial new law on the system for Bulgarians voting abroad, the row was continuing in political circles and with civil society and expatriates expressing indignation about the law.

Plevneliev announced the Constitutional Court challenge after the ruling parties, joined by some opposition parties, voted in the National Assembly to reject the veto that he had imposed because the amended Electoral Code effectively restricts the franchise rights of Bulgarians abroad.

The ruling parties overthrew the veto in a deal to keep the government together, leading Plevneliev to accuse them of putting partisan interests above those of the constitution and citizens.

Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party gave into a demand from the nationalist Patriotic Front, a minority partner in the coalition government deal, to overturn the veto, after the PF said it would withdraw its support for the government unless this happened.

After the vote to reject Plevneliev’s veto, the ruling parties announced that they would again revise the law on voting abroad, but it appears doubtful that these further amendments will mollify the indignation of Bulgarians abroad and within the country.

The move by the ruling parties handed an opportunity to the opposition to come out with criticisms, with Zhelyu Boichev, an MP for the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, telling reporters: “Obviously, we have seen a total rift in relations between GERB and the President”.

“Personally, I am embarrassed by what President put forward as reasons on the basis of which will approach the Constitutional Court, essentially accusing GERB in that it protects the narrow party interests and violates basic constitutional norms in the country,” Boichev said.

GERB MP and legal affairs committee head Danail Kirilov called on President Plevneliev to hold off on the Constitutional Court challenge until the new amendments had been presented – apparently ignoring the fact that with the veto overturned, Plevneliev is compelled to sign the legislation, which will be promulgated as law.

Kirilov said that more than half of the democracies in Europe do not allow their citizens abroad to vote, and if they do, the rules are much stricter than those in Bulgarian law.

Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, Krassimir Gadzhokov, a representative of the Bulgarian community in Canada, said that he spoke for Bulgarians abroad that resented the amendments. Bulgarians abroad wanted to see a return to the electoral law on voting abroad that had been in effect before April, Gadzhokov said.

In a commentary on the dramatic developments on the day that Plevneliev’s veto was overturned, Bulgarian National Radio said, “GERB’s junior coalition partner – the ruling wing of the Reformist Bloc – are also paying a high price. Under pressure from GERB and for the sake of keeping the coalition together, they also voted against the veto of the president. This deepened the gulf that already exists between them and the opposition wing of the reformists, but more than that – it discredited them in the eyes of Bulgarian expats, most of whom are traditionally Reformist voters.”

On social network Facebook, a protest against the rejection of the presidential veto was organised for the evening of May 19, entitled, “Let’s feed the pigs – expired food for Parliament”.

Organisers of the protest said that with the help of Bulgarians abroad, they had bought expired food to “donate” to MPs whose shelf life had expired when they trampled on the rights of Bulgarians abroad to vote.

Ombudsman and former BSP MP Maya Manolova said that she was also considering challenging the law in court, but would await the new amendments to the Electoral Code.