AIM: start

TUE, 17 APR 2001 22:21:32 GMT

Election Law - A Trap for the Opposition

Elections for the Bulgarian parliament will be held on June 17 this year

AIM Sofia, April 3, 2001

On June 12, 2001, the Bulgarians will go to the polls for the fourth time after the toppling of the Communist regime in 1989, to elect 240 deputies in the national Parliament. For the first time in the post-totalitarian era, the Parliament remained in office for the duration of its regular, four-year term. It is not the first time, however, that election laws are being tailored to suit the desire of present MPs so that they can remain in office for another four years. After an extensive debate and even a review of the election legislation by the Constitutional Court, meant to determine when the term of the current parliament will actually expire, Bulgarian President Petar Stojanov scheduled elections for June 17. This day, it turned out, was the last weekend when the vote must be held before MPs officially leave their posts on April 19.

Who and in what manner will enter the new parliament will primarily depend on voters. This is at least what the politicians claim, who have already embarked on campaigning. Sometimes, however, the outcome of election depends less on voters, and more on election laws. These laws were a logical result of the Law on Political Parties. The majority controlled by the Alliance of Democratic Forces, assisted here and there by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, succeeded in pushing through parliament a series of new, restrictive provisions which made it even more difficult for smaller political parties to have their candidates elected to the Parliament.

The political mastodons, it turned out, were ready to secure for themselves any privilege boosting their chances of success. Thus several basic provisions of the law directly pertaining to the equality of smaller and larger parties have been changed. They did not touch the 4 percent threshold for entering the Parliament, nor the proportional election system. Despite numerous demands that the election system be replaced with a majority one, the large parties decided to stuck to party election tickets.

Provisions regulating the color of ballots, which are always a matter of dispute whenever election laws are changed, also wasn't touched, to the benefit of the large parties. They preferred to have ballots in different colors retained. When all the basic colors are used, the remaining parties are given white ballots whose three edges are colored. Since the Alliance of Democratic Forces and the Bulgarian Socialist Party traditionally use blue and red respectively, the others do not have much choice. They can chose a combination of colors marking the edges of their otherwise white ballots.

The ballots were linked to one of the biggest scandals during the vote on amending the law. The majority has decided that every political group should pay for the printing of their ballots. If not, it could not be registered for elections. Opposition MPs threatened to file a motion with the Constitutional Court because the parties were thus prevented from running for financial reasons, and consequently the right of citizens to be elected was violated as well.

The basic argument of the majority was that there were parties who in the previous election did not receive a single vote. At the same time, some 6.5 million ballots were printed for each political party. Thus, each one is requested to pay for the printing of their "quota" when registering for the vote with the Central Electoral Commission. The number of voters is about six million.

Common sense still prevailed when another weird idea was brought up. Namely, Alliance of Democratic Forces MP Plamen Markov proposed that parties having the word "Bulgaria" as part of their name be banned from the polls. Later, the idea was modified to pertain to parties which have the designation "for Bulgaria" as part of their name, probably with the aim of affecting the new large opposition coalition of the BSP and a number of other parties bearing the same name.

The alliance's ideologues found a justification for their proposal in the Constitution. Since the word "Bulgaria" is a national symbol, they said, it should not be used for political purposes. In addition to the opposition coalition, it was meant to reduce the chances of a number of smaller and larger parties of which some have a chance of entering the Parliament. Among them are the Civic Party in Bulgaria, the coalition Empire of Bulgaria, and even the marginal movement led by the chairman of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee, Ivan Slavkov, named Forward Bulgaria!

At the end, the chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Bulgarian Parliament, Asen Agov, withdrew this insane proposal, saying that the society failed to comprehend "the sincere motives of the proposers" who "took European practice into account."

The majority also granted another big privilege to its elite. According to electoral laws, civil servants are to leave office during the election campaign. This does not pertain to the prime minister and the cabinet ministers. This would mean, the opposition says, that the Kostov ministers, of whom seven are imprimaturs, would use state funds for their campaigning. The ruling politicians, however, said it was in accordance with the constitution which stipulates that "ministers are to submit resignations to the newly formed Parliament," and that the state should not be left without government. It is obvious that the ministers will enjoy various privileges depending of their own sense of responsibility.

And while the debate concentrated on petty traps to be set for the small and big opposition parties, certain basic questions remained unresolved. One of them is the following: what guarantees are there that there won't be any fraud now that old ID cards have been replaced with new ones? In the past, every act of voting was registered in an individual's ID card and the new ID papers have no such provision. Thus conditions have been created for numerous objections once Election Day ends. For the time being, however, no one is considering the outcome, but only how to trick his opponent before things start, when it is all much easier.

Georgi Filipov