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Referendum in Bulgaria deliberately left at low key

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Referendum in Bulgaria deliberately left at low key


On Sunday, 6 November 2016, a citizen-initiated referendum was held in Bulgaria on three questions. Voters were asked whether to introduce mandatory voting, a majority system to elect the members of parliament and whether to curb subsidies for political parties. The referendum took place alongside the elections of the President. Reflecting the rule for turnout in Bulgaria, 3.500.585 people had to participate in the referendum to equal the number of voters in the last parliamentary elections. However, even though all three questions showed overwhelmingly support for change, the referendum was invalid as it fell less than 13 000 ballots short of the threshold. 

On the right hand side you can read Democracy International's press release ahead of the referendum with Bulgarian board member Daniela Bozhinova.

“Bulgaria has a very high turnout quorum. On top of this, the political leaders are doing everything possible to prevent us from meeting this quorum: This Sunday voters will be given the presidential ballot, but they only receive the referendum ballot if they explicitly ask for it. This is scandalous”, states Daniela Bozhinova, Democracy International board member from Bulgaria.

On 14 September 2016, Bulgaria’s Central Electoral Commission had decided that voters turning up at the polling station will only receive the presidential ballot with the argument that voters would be confused if they received both ballot papers. This decision came after a row of newly passed restrictions, aimed at lowering the turnout of the upcoming referendum. Earlier this summer, the national parliament had tried to amend the law in order to reclaim an older rule that would have made the popular vote fall on a hot August day. Under citizens’ pressure this attempt was aborted. Later the President sent three of the six referendum questions to the Constitutional Court that the latter found unconstitutional. One of the three questions that was eliminated concerned reducing the number of deputies in parliament from 240 to 120. The three questions left for the upcoming referendum concern the change of the electoral system – majoritarian instead of proportional, the introduction of obligatory voting and the question about the party subsidies that is considered the most sensitive one. The proposal is to reduce party subsidies to one tenth of the current amount.

“Angered by political corruption, Bulgaria’s citizens are longing for a political system that works better. This is why more than 500.000 of them signed the citizens’ initiative to trigger political change. But Bulgaria has not had a valid referendum since 1971. High turnout quorums and an undermined referendum campaign play into the hands of those in power, leading to voters’ demotivation and apathy. We must hope that this Sunday’s referendum will be valid in order to realise change”, concludes Daniela Bozhinova.  

Further info:

Check out the Navigator to Direct Democracy to learn about the rules of Bulgaria's citizen-initiated referendum here




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