The 42nd National Assembly’s Vice President, Maya Manolova and Sergey Stanishev, Chair of the Coalition for Bulgaria parliamentary group have presented on February 10, 2014 at the parliament the new Election Code draft to the ambassadors and the heads of diplomatic missions from the EU member-countries and such in the process of association, the USA, the Russian Federation. Present were also the heads of the European Parliament’s Information Bureau and the Representative Office of the European Commission in Bulgaria. The meeting has lasted two and half hours.
Maya Manolova explained the reasons why a new election code had to be drafted – the code, currently in effect, has caused havoc and manipulations during the elections held in 2011 and 2013 and does not comply to international standards for honest elections. This is also the opinion of a number of international organizations.
Maya Manolova has reported that in the new version, the Election code has taken into consideration all recommendations and had eliminated the defects of the previous one. Observers, according to the new code, will participate in all phases of the elections; the opposition will have representatives in the electoral commissions at all levels. For the first time candidates will have free media time for campaigning, that will provide for equal participation of all parties. Strict control over the printing of ballots is introduced, the same as the one existing for printing of government securities. The aim is to ensure the optimum for honest and transparent elections and equality of the participants and facilitate the citizens to exercise their right to vote, added Maya Manolova.
She explained to the diplomats that the initial idea about the Central Electoral Commission has changed and instead of completely independent SEC composed of experts, elected in an open procedure by the parliament, it has been decided, on the insistence of the GERB party and the President, that SEC will consist of quotas from the represented at the National Assembly parties whose members will be appointed by the President of the Republic.
The vice chair of the National Assembly admitted that two of the recommendations of the international organizations had not been adopted in the new code. The first is about the use of mother language in election campaigning. She said the idea does not have enough support from the society at large.
As for the second recommendation - to grant prisoners voting rights – this is forbidden by the Constitution and so a change in the Constitution should be made to overturn it.
Maya Manolova informed that the next elections will be the first to experiment with machine voting.
Manolova told diplomats that the drafting of the new election code has started last June. More than 100 civic organizations have taken part in the process and around 150 of their proposals were included in the texts of the code, which has passed at first reading in the parliament. In her view the current draft is the one most transparent by the way of its adoption. All sittings of the ad hoc commission and the discussions held were streamed in the internet and broadcasted on Channel 2 of the National Television.
The leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES) Sergey Stanishev explained further that the expectations of Bulgarian citizens are in favor of completely new election rules, based on a poll showing that 60% of Bulgarians don’t trust the electoral process. He mentioned what happened in the 2013 elections, when several parties, including the socialist party had to spend money for parallel counting of the votes from the parliamentary elections. He assessed the initiative of the President for holding referendum as a pre-election political trick. In his view the President has had enough time to express position on the proposed election rules, instead of suggesting one at the eve of very elections.
On their part the ambassadors raised questions referring to the lists of voters, the languages of campaigning, and the election of Bulgarians living abroad, for the preferential voting, the active registration, and the mandatory voting.
Maya Manolova expressed readiness to take into account the opinions of diplomats throughout the process of deliberations on the code.