Modest Amendments Made in the Law on Direct Participation

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On 21 July the National Assembly passed few slight amendments to the Law on Direct Participation of the Citizens in National and Local Governance, namely:

  • Bulgarian citizens residing abroad will be allowed to vote in national referendums;
  • referendums and political elections could be called on the same day;
  • the national initiative threshold has been reduced from 500 000 to 400 000 signatures;
  • a simplified procedure for political parties to register for referendum campaigns;
  • a subsidy for non-parliamentary parties and initiative committees in the form of media vouchers for the amount of 40 000 Bulgarian leva (about 20 000 euro) to pay for media outlets in the referendum campaign;
  • the turnout requirement was changed from floating to fixed at 40% of the eligible voters for the local popular votes and kept the same as before for the national referenda – equal to the voter turnout, reached at the preceding parliamentary elections;
  • for the cases of simultaneous local elections and local referenda – an approval quorum for the local referenda was introduced – approval vote shall be equal to half of the valid votes cast for city councilor.

Overall changes in the law on the direct participation were modest. Evidently the parliamentary parties were not willing to take chances to empower citizens in a more substantial manner in the expectation of a national referendum on electoral reform this autumn.  The submission of good amendment drafts filed by some parties and the active involvement of a number of  civil society organizations had created public expectations for a substantial democratization of the right to a referendum, which never came to fruition. Further disappointment was brought by the refusal of the parliamentary majority to approve two of the three referendum questions, proposed by the President (on mandatory voting and on majority election of Members of Parliament). The national referendum on electoral reform was reduced to a sole question on electronic voting and will be held on October 25-th along with the local elections.

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