28 July 2015 | 12:12
ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT TO THE 43RD NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ON THE OCCASION OF CONDUCTING A NATIONAL REFERENDUM ON THE ELECTORAL RIGHTS OF CITIZENS
Esteemed Mrs. Speaker of the National Assembly,
Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen Assembly Deputies,
In my address to the people and the 43rd National Assembly on 27 October 2014 I said: “The Bulgarian citizens set to all of us, the Assembly deputies, a complicated yet clear task – to seek what is common and preserve the differences. The positions that each political party will take will determine whether diversity can be transformed into richness. We should ensure that pessimism and the severe crisis give way to reasonable actions, step by step, day by day.”
Nine months later I would like to congratulate you on the achieved higher level of stability in the state, on the ambition to conduct important reforms and on the broad political consensus reached on amending the Constitution. If the declared intentions to conduct sweeping reforms in the Bulgarian judiciary, healthcare, education, pension system, energy sector, the Security sector and others produce concrete results, this will be a big step ahead for the state and the public with a long-lasting and strongly positive effect in domestic and international terms. The first steps and reasonable actions have been made – I wish success in your further responsible activities.
Esteemed Assembly deputies,
The prime cause for almost each of Bulgaria’s great problems lies in the judiciary and the electoral code. And the people’s low trust, the lack of justice, and the unsatisfactory growth of the economy and the incomes, the insufficient amount of investments, corruption, the grey economy, the low voter turnout, are the logical result of the inefficient law administration system and unstable electoral process. Therefore I firmly support conducting a deep and sweeping reform and a national referendum on the citizens’ electoral rights. A decisive and sustainable development of the Bulgarian law administration and electoral process may be achieved only with the will and support of the people. Therefore I initiated this referendum for a second time. It is as important for Bulgaria’s future as is the reform of the judiciary.
I take advantage of the opportunity which the Constitution provides me with to address you because I believe that the debates which are due to be held and the decision which will be voted today are of key importance for the development of democracy and the political system in the country.
I asked the 43rd National Assembly to come up with an opinion on conducting a referendum on three issues which have long been in the center of the public attention, yet they have not received the answer which would ensure stability of the electoral system and the process of forming institutions. I am sure that we can considerably improve the work of the public authorities by ensuring a higher level of public legitimacy.
Every politician appears on the political scene with a clear commitment to take into consideration the will of the sovereign, to find more efficient ways to increase the participation of citizens in political decision-making processes. Each one of us has promised, in one way or another, this to their voters and all of us together owe it to our people. We owe them trust because the civil society has more than once shown us its wisdom and commitment to the democratic values. We have neither a reason nor the right to refuse the sovereign the chance to express an opinion on the issue related to how to nominate its representatives. I mean those who promptly after being elected will swear that in all their actions they will be led by the people’s interests. Direct democracy may contribute to ensuring more stability and trust in the political system when the referendums are initiated in a fair manner, with the real desire to listen to the sovereign’s opinion on issues of national significance. However, not out of populist motives.
Esteemed Assembly deputies,
We have all observed how in the past couple of years the elections in Bulgaria have failed to ensure stability and have easily become a new factor of mistrust, of constant doubts, of infinite accusations of manipulations, vote trading, vote-buying, corporate voting. An increasingly fewer number of our compatriots take advantage of their right to vote, an increasingly greater number of Bulgarians remain excluded from the country’s political life. The state and its institutions suffer from this fact. If we fail to reverse this process, apathy and nihilism will affect the foundations of the political system itself. The solution lies in conducting a referendum on the citizens’ electoral rights. The vote of the Bulgarian citizens will show us adhering to which principles will ensure that the people nominate their representatives. This will secure the necessary stability and will considerably improve the Bulgarian political system in the long run.
This first question which I propose we should ask the citizens is: Do you support the idea that part of the Assembly deputies should be elected by virtue of a majority vote election system? We have debated the topic more than once, I have heard a lot of different arguments in the past year. What is beyond doubt is that the Bulgarian citizens prefer not only to vote for party tickets, but also for personalities. I am convinced that if we strengthen the majority vote election system, we will also strengthen the link between the voter and the Assembly deputy and will provide the chance for those compatriots who by virtue of their life and achievements have won the public trust to participate to a greater extent in the Bulgarian political life. We should not oppose the majority to the proportional element in the voting system. I am convinced that if the correct organization and principled approach are ensured, we will be able to take advantage of the best options in the two systems.
I firmly support the multi-party political system, which is one of the most valuable achievements of our transition period and should by no means be denied. I would like to explicitly emphasize the fundamental role of parties in parliamentary democracy as the bearer and representative of the people’s will. At the same time by introducing the mixed electoral system whereby part of the Assembly deputies will be elected by the majority vote election system and the rest will be elected by party tickets, we will preserve the variation of parties, yet we will also vote for individuals.
I carefully listened to all the criticism and proposals related to the way the question is formulated and at the consultations held with the political parties represented in parliament I declared my readiness to further develop and specify this question together. No common opinion has been arrived at regarding what part of the Assembly deputies should be elected by the majority vote election system. It is not appropriate for the president to specify the number of Assembly deputies to be elected by the majority vote election system. This will run counter to the basic idea – to ask the citizens and then to pool efforts and come up with the best solution. We should check what the sovereign’s will is regarding the majority vote election system. This will be the most correct guideline later when legislative decisions are made. The 43rd National Assembly has already shown more than once that it can transform the party variation into consensus-driven decisions and I believe that all of you, engaged in dialogue, will transform the people’s will into a clear and acceptable for all legislative decision. However, today it is important that you make a decision that will make it possible to conduct the referendum. I call on each one of you who declares to be supporter of the majority vote election system not to seek an easy excuse in specifying numbers and percentages, but to support in principle the idea of holding a referendum on this issue.
Another great problem, which I hope we can overcome by pooling efforts, is the growing trend toward social and political exclusion. The party of people who refrain from voting is increasingly growing and the state bodies practically represent an increasingly fewer number of citizens. It is not only their legitimacy that suffers from this fact, but also the quality of their activities and consequently the whole development of the state. Undoubtedly the explanation of alienation and apathy lies in the failure to fulfill the assumed commitments, the quickly forgotten promises and also in the great number of missed opportunities and postponed reforms. Nevertheless the appropriate time seems to have come when we should try to overcome this problem in a new manner.
Compulsory voting is well-known in the democratic world and is a remedy that can help a young democracy such as ours. The greater number of our compatriots participate in the elections, the more legitimate will the election results be and the more stable and representative will the institutions be. In the past year I have heard a lot of voices “for” and “against” compulsory voting and the dialogue about how big the boundary between rights and obligations is seems endless. All arguments should be heard – the dispute is good, it should be included in the dialogue among citizens. The sovereign should hear it and make their informed and conscious choice.
No matter what the people’s decision is, it is stronger than our personal opinion, than our personal interests, than our desire to “deal a blow” to our political opponent. No matter how sure we are in the political arguments we support, the rules in the democratic, law-governed state require that we obey the will of the one we serve.
Each one of us should take advantage of the opportunity that the campaign provides us with and convince more Bulgarian citizens in how valid their arguments are. However, we should never forget that the argument not to ask at all, because a small group of people are convinced that they are right, has no place in a mature democracy. I cannot accept such an argument. Therefore I will not use this high rostrum to present arguments “for” or “against” and I will call on all of you to ensure, by the way you vote, the most honest, most objective arbitrator in the current dispute – the Bulgarian people.
The state should ensure each Bulgarian citizen the right to exercise their right to vote. This includes all our compatriots abroad. We are all indebted to them. Today’s globalized world, the open borders, Bulgaria’s EU membership should long have made us reconsider our revival-age idea about the immigrant as a person who has left the country to seek their development somewhere else. In the contemporary world every person has the opportunity to study and work, not only in their homeland, but also abroad. Contemporary technologies provide every Bulgarian the chance to be part of the public and political life in the country, no matter where they are. To “import” the most valuable currency – the experience they have acquired, the conscious civil position and to be able to do this from every place in the world.
Today we live in the era of information technologies and the distances are no longer as important as they traditionally were. It is our responsibility to provide every Bulgarian the opportunity to show their concern about their homeland. Because they see us, they are together with us, although not in the physical sense, they speak with us – every day from any spot in the world through the global networks and communication devices. The latter have long failed to be an exotic luxury but have become a daily routine for millions of Bulgarians.
Online voting provides a lot of benefits but what is most important is that it can be a step ahead in the direction mankind is developing in. On a daily basis we have started to use the opportunities contemporary technologies provide us with. Online voting is our future, it will take place for sure. It is not a matter of whether it will happen, but when. I am convinced that the Bulgarian voters will be able to vote online in the near future – we should do it on time. Thus more than a million and a half Bulgarian citizens throughout the world will be able to make their contribution to the future of their homeland. I do not approve of having millions of Bulgarians be excluded from the public and political life simply because they have found jobs abroad. Our compatriots abroad are not indifferent to what is ongoing in Bulgaria. They show an attitude and opinion and expect to be able to exercise the right the Constitution gives them to participate in elections and referendums wherever they are in the world.
Esteemed Assembly deputies,
Our compatriots would like to be active participants in the decision-making processes in the state and express their opinions on important issues such as how Bulgarian democracy and the election process function. The people show a critical attitude to the state of the Bulgarian political system and pinpoint the deficiencies of the democratic order. There is a high public expectation about the fact that we can do more to overcome the deficiencies and blunders made during the transition period.
In the past years we have observed a dangerous process of delegitimization of institutions, parties, and unfortunately of the political system as a whole. Part of the reasons lie namely in the lost hope that every citizen is important, that everyone can change the state by voting and that democracy provides the citizen the opportunity to directly take part in decision-making. There is no stronger instrument to boost the public trust than the referendum!
Using direct democracy is evidence that the politicians serve their people. I am convinced that everyone will benefit from strengthening the role of the referendums – not only the parties, but also the citizens and the institutions. I believe that, if well regulated and organized, this most powerful instrument of direct democracy may make the political environment in the country much more sustainable and stable.
I already proposed to have the national referendum held together with the forthcoming elections for municipal councilors and mayors on 25 October 2015. Simultaneously conducting local government elections and a referendum will provide the chance to hear the people’s voice with the least possible burden on the budget. The practice adopted by many progressive societies shows that combining the two types of voting ensures the interaction between direct and representative democracy, which will strengthen the democratic foundations of the state.
I am convinced that the debates you will hold today and your voting will show the public that the 43rd National Assembly has left the bitter and unprincipled confrontation in the past. The variation of political representation is the best environment in which we can seek the correct solutions. They will be most stable if they comply with the will of the people.
We should show today that we believe in the sovereign so that tomorrow we can ensure mutual trust.