>Sofia Weekly on Bulgarian reform debate
The Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov opened Monday a forum to discuss the proposed reform of the country’s political model and election system, especially the introduction of majority representation that he himself had promoted over the recent months.
The public discussion is attended by a total of eighty persons, including the Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev, the Sofia Mayor and informal leader of the GERB party Boyko Borisov, all leaders of major political parties, as well as a number of leading Bulgarian sociologists, political scientists, and journalists.
At the opening of the forum the President expressed his doubts that the leading political parties would manage to achieve a consensus for the political reform.
Yet, Parvanov put forth his position that the introduction of majority representation elements, i.e. the adopting of a mixed representation system would turn into an antidote against the people’s indifference to politics and parties.
“None of us believes that the introduction of majority representation is the universal cure”, the President said.
He added, however, that the adding of majority elements to the proportional representation, the voters would have the opportunity to select from two “menus” – one of political parties, and another of personalities.
Parvanov rejected the allegation that the majority representation would make the buying of votes easier with the words: “It is easier to purchase a small, neat party.”
In his opening statement, the President declared himself against the introduction of a preferential proportional system, in which the voters would be able to rearrange the party tickets by pointing out that the experiment with this system had failed at the last elections for Members of the European Parliament in the spring of 2007.
He also said the preferential system would cause quarrels within the parties and coalitions, and push out of the ticket the smaller coalition partners.
The President called for the establishing of clear rules for the founding and registration of political parties. He pointed out the fact there were as many as 380 political parties in Bulgaria meant many of them were used to cover corporate interests.
Parvanov was positive that the political campaigns were the main corruption factors in Bulgaria because during them a lot more hidden party funds were spent. He suggested that a public register of the donors, advertising, PR, and lobbyist groups be set up.
According to the President and former leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Monday’s discussion was unprecedented because of the goodwill to debate and tackle important issues.
Bulgaria’s President Georgi Parvanov said at the end of Monday’s discussion of the proposed electoral system reform that he himself initiated that he was firmly against the introduction of obligatory voting.
In his words, such a measure could lead to the creation of “political monsters” as the voters would try to find ways to protest against being force to vote.
“At this point we need to win people with policies, not through forcible and administrative action”, the President said warning the politicians would not be able to tackle the consequences of such a measure for decades to come.
Parvanov pointed out the point of the whole debate was to find a solution for the curing of the parties and political system in Bulgaria, because in the last parliamentary elections the winner received only about 450 000 votes.
He stressed the negativity of this trend, and made it clear that the parties should seek a way up from the bottom that they had reached.
After the five-hour long debates, however, the President discovered the support for the introduction of greater majority representation in the political system was waning. He admitted that even the Bulgarian Socialist Party, whose leader he was before becoming President, had stepped back from its former position on electoral reform.
Parvanov also concluded that the political parties and the other participants in Monday’s forum were unable to reach a consensus on the introduction of majority representation. In his words, the idea had many proponents but no one was willing to step in and assume the political responsibility for its realization.
The leader of the extreme right and nationalist Ataka party Volen Siderov stated Monday that the discussion forum organized by the President Parvanov for reforms in the electoral system was insincere and fake.
According to the Ataka leader, the debate was a simulation because at the end the governing majority was going to adopt whatever changes it wanted without listening to the opposition.
“It is neither honest, nor moral to achieve a victory by default through changing the rules of the game”, he stated.
“We here are present at an advertising campaign of the President for a new political model”, Siderov said adding, “What other type of model do you want, Mr. President, autocracy or a military junta?”
The nationalist leader announced that there were two members of the Supreme Council of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and one advisor of the PM working in the board of Information Services Jsc, which helped with the counting of the votes.
“It is not important who votes but who counts the votes”, Siderov concluded.
He compared Monday’s forum to the round table of 1990, which in his words the former Communist Party, whose successor the BSP is, used to make a PR campaign.
The President Parvanov retorted to Siderov that it was really bad when there were people who fell asleep in 1990 and woke up today.
The Sofia Mayor and informal leader of the GERB party Boyko Borisov demanded Monday that the reforms in the electoral system allow party leaders to hold positions such as his.
During the roundtable on the proposed electoral reforms organized by the President Parvanov, Borisov stated he could not see the point of banning party leaders from being mayors, while the Prime Minister could hold their position and still remain chair of their party.
The provisions prohibiting party leaders from holding mayor’s office has forced Borisov to hand over the leadership of his party GERB to Tzvetan Tzvetanov, and to assume the title of “informal leader”.
During his statement at the forum, the Sofia Mayor also demanded that the electoral lists be finally updated in order to prevent abuses with the votes of dead persons, and those living no longer at their permanent address.
Instead, Borisov insisted that all Bulgarian citizens vote at their current address. He also declared himself in favor of abolishing the state subsidy for political parties, and against the renting of municipal property for party headquarters.
The Sofia Mayor also suggested that the Interior Ministry should inspect the minority-populated regions in order to check whether the persons were actually there, or whether somebody else voted instead of them by using their IDs.
Borisov meant primarily the thousands of Bulgarian expatriates of Turkish origin living in Turkey, whose coming back to Bulgaria by bus in order to vote has turned into a problematic phenomenon.
The MP Lutvi Mestan from the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms party retorted it would be too bad for the elections reform discussion if it was centered only around the minority-populated regions.
Earlier, the Prime Minister Stanishev said the electoral system changes would most likely be voted in November. He replied to the demands for a referendum on obligatory voting made by the National Movement for Stability that the politicians should be careful with referendums because they could turn into a populist tool. ”