Bulgaria’s establishment parties block changes to electoral law as country heads for early vote

Bulgaria’s establishment parties block changes to electoral law as country heads for early vote
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia April 28, 2021

The three traditional political parties in Bulgaria, which are officially in opposition to each other, blocked a parliament session on April 28 at which MPs were due to vote on key electoral law changes in their second reading. 

The changes are of imminent importance in Bulgaria, as the country moves closer to another snap election after the failure so far to form a government following the April 4 general election.

Gerb, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) voted against the parliament’s agenda, which included adoption of the electoral law changes that would introduce machine voting in all polling stations except those in the smallest villages, as well as scrapping limitations on the number of polling stations abroad – a move seen as step towards more transparency during elections.

On April 28, the three parties voted against the agenda without specifying their reasons. However, according to political analysts, their actions seem to be coordinated and most likely related to the amendments to the electoral law.

Many believe the three parties want to block the adoption of these amendments that would make electoral frauds significantly more difficult, hoping to go hold an early vote under the old version of the law and possibly gaining higher scores than they did on April 4.

Others believe the parliament’s session was blocked due to another topic that was on the agenda – scrapping specialised courts.

“I absolutely don’t get the interest of DPS, nor of BSP, in this mess. Clearly there is something else we do not see,” political analyst Evgenii Dainov commented on Facebook.

This was the second time in the weeks since the election that the three parties — which in theory are fierce opponents — voted unanimously. The first time, they opposed a proposal by the three new parties to make the chief prosecutor more accountable, and voted instead to summon the chief prosecutor, the heads of the Supreme Administrative Court and the Supreme Cassation Court to parliament every three months.

The amendment, supported by Gerb, BSP and DPS, was seen as an attempt to protect the current chief prosecutor, Ivan Geshev, the favoured candidate of both Gerb and the DPS. Geshev was selected through a highly controversial procedure when he was the sole candidate for the post. According to recommendations by the Venice Commission, Bulgaria must make the chief prosecutor accountable for his actions, while judges should remain independent from the parliament.

Meanwhile, as expected, popular showman Slavi Trifonov’s There Are Such People accepted and immediately returned to President Rumen Radev the mandate for forming a government, saying it will not enter in coalition with Gerb, the BSP or the DPS. This leaves the party only two other coalition partners – the other newcomers in parliament, Democratic Bulgaria and Stand up! Thugs out! — but the three parties together do not have enough MPs for a majority in the 240-seat parliament.

“We have already announced that we shall not enter in coalitions with the parties of the status quo because they lack principles. Therefore we return the mandate,” Antoaneta Stefanova, who was nominated for prime minister by There Are Such People, told Radev.

He replied that Bulgaria needs a regular and effective government but he understood the party’s reasons as a sustainable government cannot be built on agreements that lack principles.

The party’s deputy leader Toshko Yordanov told reporters, as quoted by Dnevnik news outlet, that the party would not back a government led by the BSP if Radev chooses to give the third and final mandate to the party.

The president can pick any of the remaining parties in parliament for the third mandate, but most politicians and analysts expect that whichever party he picks will also fail to form a government and the country will hold a snap vote in mid-July.

Meanwhile, far-right VMRO, which was a junior coalition partner of Gerb in the previous parliament, staged a protest in front of the parliament’s building, objecting t the planned electoral law changes. The protest was seen as the start of the election campaign for the party, which failed to pass the 4% threshold to enter parliament on April 4.