Bulgaria Coalition Partners Agree to Reverse Some Changes to Election Rules
The leader of parties that form Bulgaria's government have backtracked on a set of amendments introduced to electoral legislation in the past days.
Their decision has been announced after a meeting with Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Parliament, hours before the beginning of a final vote on the Electoral Code.
Heads of parties that form or back Borisov's minority coalition have agreed to reverse two of the controversial decisions, namely a slash of the length of election campaigns to 21 from 30 days and a ban on the announcement of opinion poll results within that time.
A newly adopted rule which provides for clearing the electoral rolls from names of people who didn't cast a ballot in an election has been modified. Under the new agreement, an eligible voter's name will be removed only if the parson in question has not participated in two national elections of the same kind (presidential, general, etc).
Additionally, it will be the Bulgarian President that will decide whether referendums should be held simultaneously with elections.
A move by Parliament to remove the legal obligation for nationwide polls to take place together with a vote if the two are scheduled for the same year sparked outrage from popular TV host Slavi Trifonov as his six-point referendum on the political system would have to be held in the summer under the recently adopted rules. Trifonov argued MPs were trying to sabotage his referendum by reducing turnout as most voters will be on holiday at the time.
Compulsory voting, the introduction of which has sparked controversy in Bulgaria's society, will remain part of the new Electoral Code, leaders have agreed.
Political parties have failed to find common ground on a recently approved ban on opening polling stations abroad that are not located in Bulgaria's diplomatic missions. The Patriotic Front, a nationalist coalition backing the government but not having ministers in it, says the move will curb the leverage of possible vote rigging in Turkey, where tens of thousands of votes come from in every election.
But the proposal is met with opposition by the Reformist Bloc coalition, made up of right-wing and centrist parties, and left-wing ABV, partners to Borisov's conservative GERB party in the cabinet.
While ABV has put forward an idea that a ban on stations outside embassies an consulates should only be enforced after online voting has been activated as a legitimate option, the Reformist Bloc says a rule should be introduced allowing the opening of up to 50 stations within a given country.
GERB supports the bloc's idea. Borisov on Monday said the ban was not in the interest of GERB as it garnered 26 000 votes from abroad in the previous general election in 2014, but explained his party had backed it because of an earlier agreement with the Patriotic Front.
Bulgarians living in Western Europe say the ban will prevent them from casting ballots, and some communities held protests over the weekend.
More than two million Bulgarians are thought to have left the country since the beginning of democratic changes in the 1990s. Many of them live in Western or Southern Europe and the United States.
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