What Is Bulgaria's Voting System Referendum About?

Politics » DOMESTIC | November 2, 2016, Wednesday // 11:35
Bulgaria: What Is Bulgaria's Voting System Referendum About? Slavi Trifonov, whose show was the main driving force behind the referendum, held a "concert meeting" last Saturday. File photo, BGNES

Bulgaria will hold on Sunday a national referendum on the voting system, election rules, and state subsidies handed out to political parties.

The national poll will coincide with the presidential elections, whose first and second round are scheduled for November 06 and November 13, respectively.

Here is all you need to know in brief.

What Is Being Asked?

Only three out of six questions made it into the ballot. These are:

1. Do you support the election of national representatives [lawmakers] through a first-past-the-post system in two rounds?

2. Do you support the introduction of compulsory voting in elections and referenda?

3. Do you support a state subsidy allocated to fund political parties to BGN 1 per every valid vote received in the last parliamentary elections?

The initial proposal included three more questions, but these were dropped by Bulgaria's Constitutional Court at the reference of President Rosen Plevneliev. Citizens were to be asked whether remote online voting should be enabled, whether the number of MPs should be cut in half to 120, and whether regional police chiefs should be voted into office under a majority system.

Bulgaria adopted online voting under a referendum and is poised to implement it in a few years. The number of MPs, on the other hand, can only lie with a Great National Assembly, the top court believes.

Interested political formations and economic groups for their could would interfere in the process of electing regional police chiefs, magistrates ruled.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

Majority voting may give the opportunity to judge candidates according to merit, and not to party affiliation, while also boosting representation. However, critics say it may also bring about a UK-style "the-winner-takes-it-all" system, favouring bigger parties.

Compulsory voting will boost democratic legitimacy of institutions, proponents and backers say. Opponents point out that voting is a right under the Constitution, instead of being a duty. What complicates the issue is that Parliament already made it mandatory to vote this year, the obligation being in force even for the forthcoming election.

Smaller state subsidies - BGN 1, down from BGN 11, would save millions in public money that could be directed to other fields such as healthcare, education, etc. A problem would be that the need for big parties to seek funding will force them into looking for money elsewhere - while many are thought to be doing so nowadays, cutting the subsidies would make it less ilicit for them to do so.

Is It Mandatory to Vote in the Referendum as Well?

No, under the fresh legislation, voting is compulsory only for elections. Those casting a ballot in the presidential vote may or may not choose to do so in the referendum.

Why Does the Referendum Enjoy Mixed Reception?

The poll was initiated by the show Slavi Trifonov, a popular host and musician. Slavi's Show has been on air for more than 16 years, firstly reserved for an entertaining approach to daily affairs, but seeking to get more actively involved in the public debate over the last few years.

Slavi's Show now speaks out against the entire political class, giving way to speculations about what Trifonov is up to.

While some political scientists wrongly foresaw he would be running for President this year, others suspect him of seeking a backdoor to - or at least leverage on - political power.

Others dismiss the referendum as being a political tool of bTV, one of Bulgaria's two biggest private TV broadcasters.

A third group feels disenchanted with Trifonov for his populist rhetoric, but also for his music which they associate with pop folk and chalga, his musical output being one of the symbols of the 1990s and enjoying huge popularity among Bulgarians at the time.

Trifonov's supporters, however, say they feel disenfranchized with the entire political system and the ruling class, be it in power or opposition.

On Saturday, thousands attended his "concert meeting" - a free-of-charge show that left Sofia's traffic partrly paralyzed and that was part of his referendum campaign, with the show calling on the public to vote "Yes" on all three questions.

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Tags: Slavi Trifonov, Referendum, voting, compulsory voting, subsidies, first-past-the-post, Presidential elections

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