General elections in Bulgaria to be held on 4 April

GERB say they will not introduce any of the president's proposed changes to the election legislation

The general elections in Bulgaria will be held on 4 April. This was revealed in a public address made by President Rumen Radev, in which he announced that he had signed an ordinance setting the day of the vote. The head of state essentially scheduled the elections for a week later than the date of 28 March, which he had initially announced.

His ordinance capped two weeks of consultations with health authorities, the Central Electoral Commission, the parliamentary represented political organisations as well as several non-represented parties, while the principle for their selection was never disclosed.

Radev himself never explained what necessitated moving the date a week back. Instead, in his address he reiterated that public confidence in the institutions is waning, that none of them have taken adequate measures and that there is no clear plan to ensure the health and safety of citizens during the elections.

“Our open discussions have shown that there are more questions than answers and have channelled public attention towards overcoming the problems we are faced with,” the president said, insisting that personal protective equipment be provided not only to members of electoral commissions, but anyone who goes to the polls to cast their vote. He then urged parliament to consider a whole host of ideas for what would amount to pretty significant changes to the election legislation - introducing vote by mail for Bulgarians abroad, installing cameras at the polling places and livestreaming the process of counting the ballots and preparing the protocols, as well as equal access to media coverage and doing away with the hand count of machine voting.

The first to react to his statement were GERB, who called 4 April an “acceptable” and “good” date, but expressed concerns over how and why the president had settled on that date. According to GERB lawmaker Toma Bikov, all participants in the consultation process declared their preparedness to, respectively, organise and participate in the elections as initially scheduled for 28 March. “Despite this consensus, Radev showed that he is incapable of existing in an environment of consensus,” Bikov said. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Georg Georgiev, president of GERB's youth organisation, asked: “Who pulled the strings here? What does 4 April mean and what difference does moving the elections a week back make?” Georgiev also noted that on 4 April Catholics celebrate Easter this year and accused the president of drawing lines of division, trying to incite chaos and undermining the integrity of the vote. For his part, Bikov advised Radev to rethink his approach of compromising and sabotaging the elections and eroding confidence in them. “It is people, not machines or envelopes, who vote. Whoever fails to understand that will lose yet another election,” Bikov is convinced.

GERB says that they will not be introducing any of the changes to the election legislation that the president called for because they see them as self-serving and because adopting such amendments so close to the elections would undermine trust in the election process.

Iskren Veselinov, MP representing the United Patriots, called 4 April “as acceptable as any other date” and opposed the president's calls for changes to the election rules. He believes not only that there is not enough time left to adopt the proposed changes, but that they would be detrimental to the national security and the integrity of the vote.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is the only one that has signalled its willingness to engage in such a debate so far. BSP is mobilised and ready to triumph at the ballot box, according to Atanas Zafirov, the party's second-in-command, who said that BSP is ready both for general elections to be held on 4 April and for debating Radev's proposed changes.

Mustafa Karadayi, chairman of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, addressed the party membership in a Facebook post that read: “Dear friends! We now know the date of the elections - 04.04.2021. We have a lot of work ahead of us and each and every one of us knows what to do. The greatest challenge we face is navigating the threat of Covid-19. I believe that we will meet this challenge too. Good luck!”

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