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TOWARD FREE AND FAIR REFERENDUMS IN BULGARIA

A project was launched to improve the legislative environment for referendums, supported by the Bulgarian-Swiss Cooperation Programme. The project is implemented by the Bulgarian Association for the Promotion of Citizens Initiatives and its Swiss partner – Center for Direct Democracy at the University of Zurich. The aim is to assess the conditions for direct democracy in Bulgaria and to develop a Green Paper on changes in legislation.

“On the eve of the latest political elections it might appear irrelevant to talk about referendums. It is, however, only at first glance. Without free and fair referendum by which the sovereign can express its will to reform the electoral system (and why not to reform the overall constitutional structure of the country), there is no chance for the elections to produce anything other than the same party-oligarchic status quo. “said Daniela Bozhinova, the project manager.
Although clearly stated in the article. 1 of the Constitution, Direct decision making by citizens in Bulgaria appears virtually blocked by a restrictive and corrupted law.
There are two striking barriers on the Law on direct participation:

1. High threshold for initiating a national referendum – 500 thousand valid signatures – such thresholds can be overcame only by the large, well-organized and funded structures, but not the authentic civic groups;
2. The absurd requirement for quorum participation in referendums, equal to the turnout in the  previous elections (local or parliamentary) – that encourages boycott, rewards the passive and punishes the active citizens, it also violates the principle of equal suffrage and others.
Furthermore, there are other serious problems and legislative gaps: lack of requirements for accountability and transparency in the financing of nomination committees, awareness of the voters, lack of clear criteria for assessing the validity of signatures in subscriptions. In practice Тhe Civil Department of Civil Registration and Administrative Services has tremendous discretion in assessing the validity of signatures, which leaves reasonable doubts about the lack of objectivity and easy susceptibility to political pressure.The requirement for providing a huge amount of personal data in subscriptions is also a problem.
“It seems that instead of creating opportunities for the participation of citizens in the government, the Law on direct participation in Bulgaria does the opposite – creates difficulties for direct decision-making,” says Dr. Magdalena Forovits, Senior Research Center for Direct Democracy at Zurich University based on her experience as an international observer to the National referendum of 2013 and to her recent impressions of local initiatives to call a referendum, as in Radomir Municipality.

The Bulgarian-Swiss team of experts and activists has undertaken the task of collecting and processing the information for conducted local referendums. On the 3rd of September at 10.30 am in Sofia was held a meeting with the organizers and the promoters of local referendums, for them to share their stories and similar ideas to solve problems. Based on the survey this project will propose solutions. “It is not necessary to apply the Swiss model, but definitely Switzerland can be a source of inspiration and to motivate action for some real empowerment of citizens,” said Magdalena Forovits.