Bulgarian parliament approves plans for referendum initiated by popular TV show

Bulgarian parliament approves plans for referendum initiated by popular TV show
Slavi Trifonov hosts Voca People, “the aliens with golden voices", on his popular evening show
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia May 13, 2016

The Bulgarian parliament approved plans to hold a referendum on electoral reforms on May 12. The referendum was initiated by the popular TV show “Slavi’s Show”.

Electoral reform is a hot topic in Bulgaria ahead of presidential elections due to take place this autumn. The issue became more pressing after the 2015 local elections, due to the chaotic vote count at the main Sofia counting centre, and a massive denial-of-service (DoS) attack against the servers of several state institutions linked with the elections.

The referendum will ask six questions concerning the introduction of the majority electoral system, halving the number of lawmakers, the introduction of mandatory voting, support for remote electronic voting, a rule on state subsidies for political parties, and introducing the election of senior police officials.

The initiative for the referendum was supported by 673,481 signatures, Dnevnik daily reported on May 12. The regional ministry confirmed that about 570,000 of them are valid, well above the threshold of 400,000 that guarantees the referendum will be held. The show launched collecting the signatures on November 10, 2015.

Aired every workday, “Slavi's Show” is an evening talk show hosted by Slavi Trifonov, a showman, actor, singer, and player of several musical instruments. The show is broadcast by the TV channel bTV of media and entertainment corporation Central European Media Enterprises (CME).

Although the show is more oriented to pop culture, Trifonov is political and often involves with causes. And when involved with a cause, he is persistent in chasing the results he wants. Trifonov is personally popular in Bulgaria, and some analysts speculate that he might participate in the presidential elections and gain a lot of votes.
During the debates in the parliament, critics pointed out that some of the questions are within the powers of a grand national assembly – an ad hoc gathering of 400 elected MPs that decides critical matters (such as the adoption of a new constitution). Stefan Kenov, an MP from the Bulgarian Democratic Centre, criticised the referendum questions, especially the one concerning the police, but said he would vote for them so that the Bulgarian citizens decide, Dnevnik daily reported. The sixth question was also criticised by Dimitar Bayraktarov from the nationalist Patriotic Front.

The original referendum questions were supported by 131 lawmakers, 18 voted against and one abstained. The ruling centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) refused to participate in the debates, claiming that the parliament has more important legislative tasks. However, GERB voted in favour, as well its junior coalition partner Reformist Bloc, the Patriotic Front, the Bulgarian Democratic Centre, the left-wing Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) that is leaving the ruling coalition, as well as two independent lawmakers.

The opposition predominantly ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) accounted for 16 of the votes against. The nationalist party Ataka, as well as 37 (out of 38) MPs from opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) did not participate in the vote.

The referendum will be held simultaneously with the presidential elections this autumn. Last month, the parliament adopted an electoral code amendment separating the dates of referendums and elections, but following public criticism reversed it within several days and restored the old regime, under which national referendums will be held simultaneously with elections. Had the amendment been kept, it would have resulted in holding the referendum in July or August, which could result in lower turnout. The turnout at a referendum is important, because according to the law it determines if its results will be binding.

President Rosen Plevneliev criticised the parliament for not removing the question on electronic voting which was already asked in a referendum last year. More than 1.7mn Bulgarians casted a ballot in favour of the e-vote at the October 25 referendum, initiated by Plevneliev.