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Electoral Procedures


A Bulgarian Orthodox priest participating in the election demonstrations of 1990, Sofia
Courtesy Charles Sudetic

The round table reforms of 1990 included a new election law ratified by the National Assembly. As in other aspects of governance, prescribed election procedures did not change greatly under the new regime, but the intent and practice of the law did. The right to vote by direct secret ballot remained universal for all Bulgarians over eighteen, and the officials they elected remained thoretically responsible only to the voters. Prescriptions for eligibility for nomination and the nomination process changed little with the new law. The main difference was that in practice the BCP (BSP) no longer could indiscriminately remove elected representatives or members of people's councils, nor did it control the nomination function nominally given to public organizations, trade unions, youth groups, and cooperatives.

Under the election law of 1953, all candidate lists were approved by the communist-controlled Fatherland Front. Under the 1990 law, all parties and registered nonparty organizations could submit candidates; individuals could be nominated for the assembly with 500 signatures of voters from their district, and an unlimited number of candidates might run from each district. The State Council formerly had the power to call elections; for the 1990 Grand National Assembly election, the date was fixed by agreement of the UDF and the BCP. The Central Election Commission, formerly a creature of the State Council, was to supervise the equitable implementation of election laws, overseeing the operation of equivalent commissions at local levels. Election commissions at all levels included members from various parties; the Central Election Commission was headed by a professor of law with no political connection.

The new law also revised the representational system of the National Assembly. The new assembly continued to have 400 seats, but it would sit for four instead of five years. A new electoral structure also was introduced. Half the National Assembly members were elected in multiple-seat districts, in proportion to total votes cast for each party in the district. A 4 percent minimum was required for a party to achieve representation. The law designated twenty-eight multiple-seat voting districts, based on the pre-1987 okruzi. The other 200 members were elected from 200 singleseat voting districts. A runoff election was held in each district where no candidate received 50 percent of the initial vote (this occurred in 81 of the 200 districts). All voters in the 1990 election had one vote in each type of district (see The National Assembly , this ch.).

The election was supervised by the CSCE. According to impartial observers and the parties themselves, the election was reasonably free of interference and coercion, considering that most of the electorate had never faced a true political choice and the registration and voting systems were quite complex. Party strategies were dictated by timing and geography. The UDF, lacking time and resources to campaign in the provinces, confined its efforts to the more congenial constituency in Sofia and other large cities. The BSP campaigned as a reform party in progressive Sofia, but it took advantage of the substantial residue of Zhivkovite local officials in the provinces (many of whom were accused of exerting pressure on their constituents to vote BSP) to gain 211 assembly seats to the UDF's 144. The UDF outpolled the BSP in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and most other Bulgarian cities.

The timing of the next national election was the topic of heated debate in the first half of 1991 as political factions maneuvered for advantage. After the new constitution was ratified in July 1991 and a new election law was scheduled for August, elections were tentatively set for October 1991. The new election law was to free the system of the cumbersome procedure used in 1990. Controversial elements of the law were a BSP-backed clause disallowing absentee ballots from émigrés and the restriction of all campaign activities to the Bulgarian language. The 1991 law prescribed a Central Electoral Commission of twenty-five, to be appointed by the president in consultation with major political factions. The central commission would then appoint and oversee like commissions at lower jurisdictions and set policy for election administration. National elections were to be held by the proportional system, eliminating the two-part system of 1990. Recognized parties, coalitions of parties, individual nominees, and combinations of individuals and parties would be eligible to run. The country was divided into thirty-one electoral constituencies, three of which were in Sofia.

Data as of June 1992

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