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
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
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.