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What Is New in the New Election Law?
 
Dr. Mihail Konstantinov
Member of the Central Election Commission


The new Law for Electing Members of Parliament (or briefly the Election Law) was adopted on April 13, 2001, replacing the old Election Law that had been in force for almost ten years. The new law was created with the active support of experts from all parties and with the contribution of a number of CEC members.

According to the new law the election system remains as the previous one. It is a proportional system, with a 4 percent barrier at a nation wide level. Although regional stiff lists exist in the 31 election regions, the total number of mandates of each party or coalition is determined by the total number of votes cast in the whole country. The D'Hondt method is used for transforming votes into number of MP-s. This method produces almost proportional results, giving a limited advantage to larger parties. For example, in 1994 the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) had votes, which corresponded do 123.5 MP, but the D'Hondt method gave it a total of 125 MP. In 1997 the United Democratic Forces (UDF) had votes for 135.5 mandates but actually received 137 MP. We stress that this is not a disadvantage of the D'Hondt method - often it is preferable to have larger majorities and more stable cabinets.

The election system has a majority element - the institute of independent candidates. However, there was no successful independent candidate in the 1991, 1994 and 1997 parliamentary elections. My own prediction is that in 2001 there will be no independent candidate elected as well.

The color ballots will be used once again as in the 1990, 1991, 1994 and 1997 parliamentary elections. Almost all experts in Bulgaria agree that it is time to start using white integral ballots, following the world practice. Such ballots were used in 1999 local elections. Then in some regions the part of invalid votes increased up to 15 percent, with an average of 8 percent for the country. This is one of the reasons to keep the color ballots. However, the problem with the type of ballots is considered as a political one in this country and is correspondingly solved by politicians.

As a whole, the political parameters of the law are the same as in the old one, and this is also a political decision. There was a wide discussion in media about the new election law, and a number of changes has been introduced as result of it. This was a good example of the active and fruitful participation of civil society in the political decision-making.

A new element in the law is the fact that parties and independent candidates have to pay for the ballots (Article 76). Although not very often, this practice exists in some countries in Europe and in the world. This idea was approved by 80 percent of the voters according to opinion polls. The corresponding legal texts are contested before the Constitutional Court by a group of MP.

According to the new law the prime minister and the ministers continue to perform their duties after being nominated as candidates for MP. This text was strongly attacked by media and politicians from the opposition. It is very strange since the same text was adopted in the old law by a decision of the Great National Assembly on September 13, 1991, and accepted as lawful one by the Constitutional Court only months after. Moreover, in 1991 the cabinet of the prime minister D. Popov continued to perform its duties in the pre-election period although some of its members were nominated as candidates for MP. Needless to say that all over the world the ministers do not terminate their duties while being nominated as candidates. The corresponding legal text is also contested before the Constitutional Court. It is my personal expectation that the Court will reject the contest. The above-mentioned discussion is very typical for the style and moral of some representatives of the Bulgarian political class.

The main changes and new elements in the new law regard to the procedures and technologies of the election process. The old law had several very serious drawbacks in this respect. In particular, the counting procedure in the new law is based on the concepts of "vote" instead on that of "ballot" since the voting is performed by envelopes, which may (or may not) contain more than one ballot (Article 97).

For the first time in the new law a party or a coalition is not allowed to have a majority in any of the election commissions: Central, regional and sectional. Also, the chairperson and the secretary, who sign the decisions, must be from different political forces (Article 20). The accusation that in the present CEC this rule is violated does not correspond to the facts. Indeed, now CEC consists of 6 representatives of UDF (including vice chairperson and secretary), 5 of BSP (including the chairperson), 2 of the People's Union (including vice chairperson), 1 of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, 1 of the Business Block, 1 of the EuroLeft, 1 of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and 7 independent judges (including vice chairperson). According to the old law the decisions of election commissions were taken by a qualified majority of 2/3. The new law, since no majorities can occur, provides decisions to be taken by a simple majority.

Also for the first time special measures are foreseen for people with physical damages, enabling them to take part in the voting.

The access to the national electronic media and the conduct of the election campaign as a whole are decided in a modern way, following the principles of equal opportunities and fair access to national resources.

The financing of the election campaign and the donations in particular are regulated in detail. There are limitations on the sums that can be spent by a party or a coalition. It is forbidden for juridical subjects, with more than 50 percent state or municipal property, to finance the election campaign. No financing is allowed to foreign physical and juridical subjects (Articles 71, 72 and 73).

In the new law, as well as in the recent practice of CEC, drastic measures are taken against any attempt to manipulate and/or to falsify the voting results. All procedures are transparent and clear including vote counting in the polling stations, regional election commissions and CEC. The protocols, prepared in identical triplicate, go different ways after being signed, and are counted and compared in different computer centers. Tens of thousands of observers will, as usual, take part in the elections. Representatives of all political parties and observers will receive copies of all 12, 600 protocols of polling stations (sections) all over the country. In only 3 days after the elections detailed results for each one of the 12, 600 sections will be put on the web site of CEC with all numbers from the protocols, including the votes for each party, coalition and independent candidate. All political parties and everybody interested in the elections will receive the Bulletin of CEC, containing the above data on hard and soft versions.

The idea is very simple - if a falsification occurs in the results, at least in one section, then something must be wrong (otherwise everything is OK by definition). But everybody will be able to compare its own observation for every single section with the data of CEC. And if somebody is not satisfied with the results, he or she may contest the results before the Constitutional Court following the corresponding legal procedure from Article 112. It is worth mentioning that in the 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 elections no single contest for a particular section had been made (in some cases local elections were declared invalid by courts but mainly for reasons connected with addresses of voters and never for reasons connected with processing the protocols). It is my personal expectation that in the 2001 elections the situation will be the same.

As in the old law, CEC will again determine the mandates in the election regions proportionally to the population (Article 23, (1), 10). Of course, the results from recent population count (March 2001) will lead to changes in the mandates, for instance Kardzhali region will have 1 mandate less. This of course will not change the total number of MP of any party, including the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. We recall that the total number of mandates of any political force is determined at a national, not regional, level. That CEC determines the mandates was criticized by politicians from ethnic parties. They obviously forget that this rule was in force in the last 10 years, and probably do not know that the number of regional mandates has nothing to do with the total number of MP of any party.

A current problem in the Bulgarian elections is the content of voters' lists. At present, there are about 6, 300, 000 eligible voters in Bulgaria. The lists, however, will again contain about 7, 000, 000 names as usual. The main reason is that about 600, 000 people left the country in the last 10 years, at least 500, 000 of them being aged 18 or more. Their names are still in the lists. Of course, extra names in the lists should make no problem if the polling station commissions are doing their job properly.

The coming June 17 elections are considered as very important by the people and by the politicians. That is why, according to our national traditions, there will be countless accusations and contra-accusations, dirty tricks and more. But this must not hide the fact that here, in my country, we have a working democracy and a working election machinery in particular. In Bulgaria every vote matters because it is properly counted. Which is not always the case even in countries with established democracies.

 
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