ADDRESS MADE BY PRESIDENT ROSEN PLEVNELIEV TO THE NATION
In the past year I have very often heard people say that they would like to have more direct democracy and the willingness for holding a public debate and amending the election system had a strong repercussion during the protests. As president, I think my task is to work so as to ensure that direct democracy occupies an increasingly more visible place in the public life.
Today we complain about insufficient legitimacy, low public trust and alienation of the civil society from the political processes. However, do we provide people the chance to speak their mind. During the transition years a lot of politicians performed the function of “spokespersons” of the people. However, they avoided the most direct and sure path to giving the people the chance to exert their authentic will – namely, the referendum.
Today there is hardly a more debated public topic than the one about what the election system and the manner of voting would be. In the past ten years, on the eve of any elections, the power holders amended the law, hoping that it will help them win more Assembly deputy seats. The frequent amendments show that we have failed to find a lasting solution. This instability may be overcome if the sovereign has a say on the fundamental principles and rules of the election system. Today we need a law that meets the expectations of the majority of people, not only those of the politicians.
The public support for the institutions depends on the people’s conviction that their opinion matters, that they set out the rules. The Bulgarian election system needs guarantees that the people are represented so that the public trust can be restored and the apathy that a large part of the voters have fallen into may be overcome. If a referendum is conducted, as a tool of direct democracy, the people will be able to voice their clear and adamant opinion. There is no other mechanism which could guarantee a wide public debate to the same extent and after which we can have a mandatory solution, committing the politicians. The referendum is a means to achieve real and stable democracy.
The civil society unambiguously showed its readiness to be an active participant in decision-making. All politicians call on us to use the positive civil energy. We should do it in the most democratic manner – by conducting a referendum.
Therefore I will take advantage of the right I have been granted by law and will offer that the National Assembly makes a decision for conducting a national referendum on the following three concrete questions:
1. Question: Do you support the idea that part of the Assembly deputies should be elected by virtue of a majority vote election system?
2. Question: Do you support the idea that a compulsory voting should be introduced at the elections and the national referendums?
3. Question: Do you support the idea that people will have the right to vote from distance on-line when elections and referendums are held?
I suggest that the national referendum be conducted together with the forthcoming elections for members of the European Parliament from the Republic of Bulgaria, to be held in May. Thus, with the smallest amount of funds, the public will be able to voice its position on important issues related to the political rights of the Bulgarian people, which lie at the basis of democracy. I call on the Assembly deputies to conduct a national referendum on these issues, which I believe will ensure stabilization of the institutions in Bulgaria and building up the public trust.
The project for a new Election Code provides for non-mandatory preferences in the party election tickets. This proposal does not completely meet the demands of the Bulgarian people – for a majority vote election system. The mixed election system combines the advantages of the majority vote election system and the proportional representation election system and remedies their deficiencies. The voters’ willingness to vote for individuals, not only for election tickets, will find its solution and will strengthen the link between the voters and their representatives. The participation of majority-vote candidates at the elections will give the individuals the chance to promote their ideas. Among the positive aspects of the mixed system are overcoming the division in society and stabilizing the party system. Although the party variation is preserved, people will vote for individuals.
Compulsory voting will not only give active citizens the opportunity to participate, but also those of our compatriots who have alienated themselves from political life. The greater number of citizens express their will, the more legitimate will the election results be and the more stable will the institutions be. The people who will rule should not necessarily be elected by hard-core party voters.
The aim of the referendum on whether voting should be compulsory is that each Bulgarian citizen is committed to the common deeds and the way the public power is exercised. Compulsory voting is an instrument whereby we will counteract the most vicious practices – a corporate, manipulative, organized or bought vote. Only by increasing the voter turnout will we be able to reduce the weight of these votes.
Online voting is not simply easier, but also a proof that the Bulgarian state is concerned about its people, no matter where they are in the world. This manner of voting increases the voter turnout and is a tool for raising the prestige of the institutions. We should address the 21st century technologies by motivating a growing number of Bulgarians to use them. We should recall that at the census conducted in 2011, more than three million Bulgarians participated in it online. At least 1,5 million Bulgarian citizens live and work in other parts of the world. Our compatriots abroad are not indifferent to the events unfolding in our country, they have an attitude and opinion about the future of our homeland and will be able to exercise the right the Constitution has granted them to participate in the elections and referendums no matter where they are.
If the Bulgarian citizens say “yes” to online distance voting at the referendum, the Assembly deputies will have to assume the responsibility to find legislative solutions which will guarantee that the voting is secret. In a lot of countries legal and technical guarantees have been established so that the people’s right to vote is defended. I am convinced that online voting is the future, and the sooner we take this step, the more lasting the solution will be.
Although democracy as an achievement has no alternative, it means that everyone should assume responsibility toward their fatherland. There is no authentic democracy without representation at the voting. If everyone participates in the elections, the latter cannot be manipulated. Today almost half of the Bulgarian voters refrain from voting. This situation is becoming increasingly more unacceptable and necessitates a radical change. We should restore the meaning people’s voting has and impart on it the significance it deserves.
Putting forward these arguments and after making consultations with the public, I decided to initiate this referendum. The voice of the people should be heard, not bought. Everyone should voice their opinion on the future of the nation, the future should not be held hostage by manipulators and vote buyers. Democracy depends on each one of us.