Bulgaria's Ombudsman to Refer Electoral Code Texts to Top Court on Monday
Bulgarian Ombudsman Maya Manolova has said she is ready to refer to the Constitutional Court as early as Monday, October 17, on sections of voting legislation that she believes curbs the rights of Bulgarians abroad.
The move comes three weeks before presidential elections and a referendum are due in Bulgaria on November 06. The last Electoral Code was adopted in May and finally approved in the summer, setting a cap of 35 polling stations per country (apart from Bulgaria's diplomatic missions), with at least 60 signatures of expats needed for a station to be opened.
"I even submitted a draft law that would return the old regime that provided for the automatic opening of sections where [more than 100] Bulgarians have already voted in previous elections," says Manolova, considered the "architect" of the previous Electoral Code, in force under a socialist-led government in 2013-2014 (at the time she was a lawmaker).
Activists have already expressed their anger at the situation, calling on authorities to reconsider the amendments.
The government, however, has warned delays in voting should be expected.
Both the national Ombudsman and the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) have voiced their concerns with legislation posing hindrances, rather than facilitating, those willing to vote abroad.
Manolova has told the Bulgarian National Radio she will call on the Constitutional Court to issue a ruling "in an urgent manner".
"This scandalous text has to be overcome through a brave decision of CEC, legislative amendments or a constitutional complaint. This situation is explosive," she has said, arguing voters' rights have been infringed.
The election watchdog's spokesperson, Tsvetozar Tomov, has joined Manolova in calling the text "scandalous".
But he has added the CEC is "between a rock and a hard place," urging lawmakers to act instead and to remove "part of the restrictions".
While amending election rules a week into the campaign is problematic, the current situation makes it difficult for Bulgarians abroad to cast ballots.
Bulgarians in Turkey and the UK will face difficulties trying to vote if the restrictions stay in place, blogger Boyan Yurukov, who lives in Germany, has also said.
Dnevnik has also quoted Tomov as saying there are venues in Turkey and the UK where no stations will be opened due to the Electoral Code restrictions even though more than 60 declarations have been submitted by Bulgarian nationals willing to vote.
In Turkey, five towns will not give Bulgarian expats options to vote, while in the UK they number as many as seventeen, Tomov has added. During general elections in 2014, there were more than 130 polling stations in Turkey.
The Patriotic Front, a nationalist coalition backing Bulgaria's minority government, was the political organization that tabled the restriction in the spring, arguing it would curtail mass (and "orchestrated") voting from Turkey with a preference for a specific party. Initially, the PF had insisted on allowing for stations only to be set up in diplomatic missions of Bulgaria, but the proposal drew outrage from expats.
In Germany, voting will only be allowed within the embassies and consulates of Bulgaria on security grounds.
Overall, there will be 301 polling stations in 72 states on November 06. Some of these may not open if the respective country does not give its consent by October 18.
More than 34 000 have declared their intention to vote, most of them being in Turkey (8842) followed by the UK (more than 7000, and Germany (3508). There will be 35 stations in the US, 27 in Spain, 13 in Greece, and 10 in France.
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