Bulgaria’s April 4, 2021 Parliamentary Elections: Facts and Figures
April 2 (Lyubomir Gigov of BTA) – After a 30-day campaign (March 5 – April 2) and a day of reflection, Bulgarians are going to the polls on Sunday to elect their new lawmakers. These will be the country’s eleventh parliamentary elections since the start of democratic changes in 1989, the first since 2009 to be held after the National Assembly has completed its full four-year term of office and, therefore, organized under a government elected by the legislature rather than under a caretaker cabinet appointed by the President, and the third governed by the new Election Code, adopted in March 2014 (effective May 5, 2014, last amended December 2020).
The April 4 elections are undoubtedly unique in that they take place amidst an unprecedented pandemic, which leaves its imprint on all aspects of the process: from a campaign largely confined to the media, to the focus of campaign issues and party priorities, to anti-infection precautions and people’s decision whether to vote or not.
For the third time in these national parliamentary elections, voters in domestic sections will be able to express a preference for a particular candidate on the party or coalition list of their choice.
The 240 seats in the next 45th Ordinary National Assembly will be contested by 6,895 candidates (28.7 per seat), including those standing simultaneously in two constituencies (the maximum number admissible).
Of these, 6,893 candidates have been nominated by 30 entities (listed here in the order of the sequential numbers, assigned to them by lot, under which they appear in the ballot):
– 22 parties running on straight tickets:
1. VMRO – Bulgarian National Movement
3. New Democracy Bulgarian National Union
5. Vazrazhdane [Revival]
6. ABV (Alternative for Bulgarian Revival)
8. Conservative Alliance of the Right (KOD)
9. Movement for Rights and Freedoms
10. Bulgarian Progressive Line
12. Revival of the Fatherland
14. Bulgarian National Unity (BNO)
15. Natsiya [Nation]
19. Glas Naroden [People’s Voice]
20. Movement of Non-Partisan Candidates
21. Republicans for Bulgaria
22. Pravoto [The Law]
25. Party of the Greens
26. Society for New Bulgaria
27. Bulgarian Union for Direct Democracy
29. Ima Takuv Narod [There Is Such a People]
30. Direct Democracy
– 8 coalitions with 32 parties in aggregate:
2. Nie, Grazhdanite [We, the Citizens] (2 parties: Coalition for You; Bulgarian Democratic Community)
4. BSP for Bulgaria (5 parties: Bulgarian Socialist Party; Nova Zora; Communist Party of Bulgaria; Ecoglasnost Political Club; Trakia Political Club)
11. Democratic Bulgaria Alliance Coalition (3 parties: Yes, Bulgaria Movement; Democrats for Strong Bulgaria; Green Movement)
13. Together for Change Movement (5 parties: Bulgarian Social Democracy – EuroLeft; European Security and Integration; Rodolyubie 2000)
17. Protesting Citizens (4 parties: The Bulgarian Left; KOI (Competence, Responsibility and Truth); Bulgarian Agrarian Party; Union of Communists in Bulgaria)
18. Izpravi Se! Mutri Vun! [Rise Up! Thugs Out!] (3 parties: Movement 21; Bulgaria for the Citizens Movement; United People’s Party)
24. Patriotic Coalition – Volya and NFSB (8 parties: Volya; National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria; United Social Democracy Party; Bulgarian Social Democratic Party; Christian Democratic Party of Bulgaria; Radical Democratic Party in Bulgaria; Radicals Bulgarian Democratic Union; Bulgarian Agrarian National Union)
28. GERB-UDF (2 parties: Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB); Union of Democratic Forces).
The remaining two candidates are independents (one in Blagoevgrad and one in Sofia’s Multi-member Constituency No. 24) who have entered the race through nomination committees. An independent candidate may stand in only one constituency.
To qualify for election to Parliament, candidates must hold Bulgarian citizenship only, be not interdicted, and not serve a custodial sentence.
The right to elect National Representatives vests in Bulgarian citizens who are aged 18 by polling day, are not interdicted, and do not serve a custodial sentence. Voter registration is passive. The electoral rolls list people according to their permanent address in Bulgaria. Persons serving custodial sentences, the 7,000 or so interdicts, the holders of a non-resident voting certificate, the applicants for voting abroad, and those listed for voting according to their present address have been removed from the standard rolls and are entered on a separate list of removed persons who are not entitled to be added to the electoral roll on polling day (so-called “prohibited voter list”).
The Directorate General Civil Registration and Administrative Services at the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works puts the tentative number of eligible voters at 6,732,316. The actual number will become clear right before polling day.
Election Administration and System
The process is handled by:
– an 18-member Central Election Commission (CEC): responsible for the entire country, including for the voting abroad;
– constituency election commissions: one for each of the 31 multi-member constituencies into which the country is divided for election purposes (3 in Sofia City Region, 2 in Plovdiv Region, and 26 coextensive with the remaining 26 administrative regions);
– section election commissions: one for each section, where the actual voting takes place.
Constituency and section commissions have approximately 100,000 members in aggregate. Of the 2,507 members of section commissions abroad, some 300 are diplomatic and Foreign Ministry appointees, 1,700 have been nominated by the local expat communities, and some 500 by political parties.
National Representatives are elected on the basis of universal, equal and direct suffrage in a secret ballot.
Voting is compulsory, but the voting obligation is practically unenforceable after the Constitutional Court determined by a Decision of February 23, 2017 that the penalty for non-voters (which consisted in removal from the electoral roll for the next elections of the same type) was unconstitutional. Permanently disabled and visually impaired persons, persons with ambulant difficulties and those aged over 70 were anyway exempt from the obligation to vote. Besides this, non-voting could be excused by “compelling reasons”, which meant absence from Bulgaria for the period of the parliamentary elections, engagement with study or business and other unforeseen circumstances.
The election system is semi-proportional with a single transferable vote. The allocation of seats at the national level is limited to parties and coalitions which have gained no less than 4 per cent of the valid votes within Bulgaria and abroad and to independent candidates who have gained valid votes which are no less than the constituency electoral quota (the total number of valid votes cast in the constituency divided by the number of seats allocated for that constituency).
Each party and coalition is allocated seats using the Hare-Niemeyer Method: the number of seats to be filled is multiplied by the number of votes won by the party/coalition, and the result of this calculation is divided by the total number of valid votes (excluding the valid “None Of The Above” votes) to obtain the number of seats going to the party/coalition concerned.
A fixed number of seats (varying from 16 to 4) is assigned to each multi-member constituency: 16 to Sofia City (No. 23), 15 to Varna (No. 3), 14 each to Bourgas (No. 2) and Sofia City (No. 25), 12 to Sofia City (No. 24), 11 each to Blagoevgrad (No. 1), Plovdiv City (No. 16), Plovdiv Region (No. 17) and Stara Zagora (No. 27), 9 each to Pazardjik (No. 13) and Pleven (No. 15), 8 each to Veliko Turnovo (No. 4), Rousse (No. 19), Sofia Region (No. 26) and Haskovo (No. 29), 6 each to Vratsa (No. 7), Sliven (No. 21) and Shoumen (No. 30), 5 each to Kurdjali (No. 9), Lovech (No. 11) and Montana (No. 12), and 4 each to Vidin (No. 5), Gabrovo (No. 8), Kyustendil (No. 10), Pernik (No. 14), Razgrad (No. 18), Silistra (No. 20), Smolyan (No. 22), Turgovishte (No. 28) and Yambol (No. 31).
Polling Day Arrangements
On Sunday, the polls will open at 7:00 a.m. and will close at 8:00 p.m. By exception, if voters are still waiting outside the polling site at 8:00 p.m., voting may continue until 9:00 p.m.
Balloting will take place in 11,983 voting sections, 88 sections at hospitals, and 185 mobile sections in Bulgaria, which will service permanently disabled voters and those quarantined at their permanent address as COVID-19 infected or contacts. The 1,305 accused and sentenced persons without an enforceable sentence will be able to vote at 14 sections in all prisons and at 13 sections in pre-trial detention facilities.
For Bulgarians abroad, there are 465 voting sections (the largest number ever) in 69 countries. In 35 countries, the sections are only at the Bulgarian diplomatic missions and consular posts, in 30 countries there are sections at the embassies and consulates, as well as in other locations, and in four countries, where Bulgaria does not have such missions (Luxembourg, Malta, Singapore and New Zealand), the sections are in other locations only. The 2016 amendments to the Election Code limited the number of voting sections per country outside the EU to 35, and that many sections function in the UK, Turkey and the US. The most voting sections abroad, 61, were opened in Germany. There are 53 voting sections in Spain, 24 in Italy, 20 in Greece, and 18 in France.
For the first time in these national parliamentary elections, full-scale machine voting will be available as an equivalent alternative to the use of paper ballots across all 9,389 sections with at least 300 voters. This option cannot be exercised when voting by a mobile ballot box, at hospitals, nursing homes and other social care institutions, on board Bulgarian-flagged ships, and abroad.
Separate combined white paper ballots are used for each constituency. They contain the name and number of the constituency, the full and/or abbreviated name of the party, coalition or nomination committee, a square with the sequential number assigned to the party, coalition or independent candidate, a “None Of The Above” square, and circles with sequential numbers, whose number corresponds to the doubled number of seats in the respective constituency. A different type of ballot paper is provided for the voting abroad: it lists only the parties and coalitions contesting the election, without circles for preferences.
To validly express their choice, voters must mark the square with the sequential number of the party/coalition/independent candidate or the “None Of The Above” square with an “X” or a “V” sign, using a ballpoint pen writing in blue ink. Voters may also express a single preference for a candidate on a party list, marking his or her number on the list by an “X” or a “V” in a circle. To be moved up on the list, such a candidate must get more than 7 per cent of the valid votes cast for the relevant list. If no preference is expressed, a preference for the candidate ranked first on the list is allowed. The ballot paper is then folded in a way making the marked choice invisible and is deposited in a transparent ballot box without an envelope.
Those who opt for machine voting (where available) will be given a plastic chip card by the section commission. The voter needs to insert the card in the touch-screen device, which then displays the ballot which looks exactly the same as the paper version but is divided into three successive screens. After the voting is conducted, the system prints out a control receipt, indicating the voter’s choice of a party/coalition/independent and preference (if any), which is deposited in a special machine voting box.
At the polling sites, voters will be required to wear face masks and maintain distance. Those who do not have a mask of their own will be given one of 3 million single-use masks purchased for this purpose. Another 800,000 high-protection masks have been provided for constituency and section election commission members, of whom over 35,000 have been vaccinated according to their wish. Polling sites will be disinfected by more than 25,000 employees with the help of 71,000 litres of disinfectant (including 40,000 litres of hand sanitizer).
Twenty-eight Bulgarian non-governmental organizations will monitor Sunday’s elections, deploying 3,401 observers. Six international and foreign organizations have registered observation missions with 129 observers in aggregate: the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) (27 observers), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (4 observers), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (34 observers), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (56 observers), the Working Group for Azerbaijani-Bulgarian Interparliamentary Relations at the National Assembly (Milli Mejlis) of Azerbaijan (1 observer), and the Association of Bulgarians on the Island of Crete (7 observers).
Five sociological agencies have registered to conduct exit polls on polling day: Sova-5, Alpha Research, Gallup International Balkan, Trend Research Centre, and Market LINKS.
Five foreign media outlets will cover the balloting in Bulgaria: Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Associated Press, Al Jazeera and Kanal 5 (North Macedonia).
Over 20,000 policemen will enforce law and order on April 4.
Exit poll results may not be made public and commented on by politicians, pollsters and journalists before 8:00 p.m. on Sunday.
Section commissions have to count the votes, prepare the tally sheets and deliver them to the constituency commissions within 24 hours after the close of the polls. These elections will require the use of 14 different types of tally sheets.
Constituency commissions must determine and declare the voting results in their constituency, send their tally sheets to the CEC, and post a scanned copy of them on their Internet sites within 48 hours after the close of the polls.
The CEC must declare the voting results, the votes received and the allocation of seats within four days after polling day, i.e. by April 8, and must name the elected MPs within seven days after polling day, i.e. by April 11, 2021. LG/LG