Electoral Code: Bulgaria Eases Restrictions on Polling Stations Abroad
Bulgarian lawmakers have backtracked on a blanket ban on opening polling stations outside of Bulgaria's diplomatic missions to other countries.
Under the new rules approved on Thursday afternoon, the restrictions will not be in force for the territory of the EU where there are embassies or consulates.
In EU countries where no diplomatic missions of Bulgaria are present, stations will be opened where at least 100 Bulgarian nationals have submitted an inquiry.
In non-EU countries (such as the US, Canada, Russia, and Turkey), polling stations can also be opened outside embassies, but only a single station located in cities whose population is bigger than 1 million if there is no diplomatic mission of Bulgaria in the respective city.
MPs modified the controversial Electoral Code amendment following mass protests from Bulgarian communities abroad. The Patriotic Front, a nationalist coalition that has no ministers in the cabinet but backs the governing minority coalition, was adamant a restriction to the number of missions would curb the influence of voters in Turkey, where tens of thousands of Bulgarian nationals have traditionally cast ballots in favor of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), with some now possibly switching to the new DOST party.
However, Bulgarians living in Western Europe or the US, whose combined number outweighs those in Turkey, said the move restricted their options to cast a ballot, especially in light of another decision by Parliament which made voting compulsory.
Vast sections of the new amendments, including a ban on publishing results of opinion polls throughout an election campaign, sparked outrage from the public, prompting emergency talks of political leaders with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to discuss possible concessions.
On Thursday, the last workday of the week as Orthodox Easter holidays begin the next day, lawmakers had fervent discussion on election laws being in a hurry to pass all the required texts of the electoral code.
It was the opening of polling stations abroad, rules for holding referendums, and the implementation of voting with electronic machines that raised tensions among lawmakers during and following a meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee around noontime.
A number of lawmakers objected to the decisions of the committee whose report had been submitted to the floor of Parliament, claiming that the committee had held no session over the past few days.
According to Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, the mysterious committee meeting had been held before 10:32 local time on Thursday morning - the moment it was tabled.
The holding of any session at the Legal Affairs Committee was contested by MPs from both the opposition and parties that are in or back the cabinet.
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