2012-06-27 12:00:00

Speech by President Rosen Plevneliev at a Round Table on ‘The Election Process: Problems and Solutions’

Honorable Members of Parliament,
Honorable representatives of the executive, non-governmental organizations

Welcome to the Presidency’s latest roundtable. During the “months of political consultations” held at the initiative of the Presidency, parliamentary political forces agreed with the need for timeous discussion on issues related to the electoral process.

We have gathered here at this roundtable politicians and experts for one main reason. On the one hand, for politicians to hear the advice and suggestions of experts. On the other hand, to enable representatives of parliamentary parties, representatives of the Council of Ministers and those of the Central Election Commission to express their positions and views towards finding consensus solutions to this important topic.

Bulgaria has more than 20 years experience in democratic elections. This is also one of the virtues and achievements of our democracy. In spite of the fact that political opposition has intensified, especially characteristic of the 1990s, political parties and the political elite in the country have created rules and conditions for fair and democratic elections. Elections and electoral processes are important for the functioning of democracy. That's why election laws should be developed to provide sustainable rules and mechanisms to guarantee the conduct of elections in the country.

The Electoral Code was a positive step in that direction. It has provided the legal framework that gives a clear regulatory framework for the conduct of all elections. This makes reform regarding consolidating the legal framework and governing the conduct of elections in the country sustainable. Of course, practice can demonstrate that one or another mechanism does not work well. Therefore, at the discretion of the legislature, changes can always be made. But it is good basic framework for sustainability.

The debate about the electoral process is not new. Experts and politicians sometimes identified the same problems. In some areas they have proposed similar solutions and in others not. Looking at the debate, which has been thoroughly argued in public, three major discussions can be identified.

First, the electoral process as a means for conducting elections.

Second, doubts persist in society about the existence of practices such as vote-buying and manipulation of voting.

And thirdly, institutional mechanisms through which to increase voter turnout, especially among the young, who are among the group most often reluctant to go to the ballot box.

Regarding the electoral process as a means for conducting elections, most issues have been discussed for years in the community. One is the issue of voters’ rolls. I'm sure the experts will raise this issue. It will be good to hear their proposals.

Another major issue on which we have different positions is the status of the Central Election Commission. There are suggestions that it be formed on professional expertise and principles. There are other questions regarding the election process that will affect you. I hope for a constructive and fruitful discussion today.

When we talk about the election process in Bulgaria, we should look at its essence - democracy. Looking at the Freedom House rating chart and their annual “Nations in Transition” survey, we find that in electoral process indicators for the past 10 years, Bulgaria has a stable rating, which ranks it among the countries with high levels of democratic election processes. In 2012, Bulgaria received a score of 2, a result similar to the average for Central and Eastern Europe. The Czech Republic and Poland had the best scores, a rating of 1.25 in 2012. Behind Bulgaria, however, is Hungary, with a rating of 2.25, and Romania, with a rating of 3. This assessment should have a positive effect on the pessimists, but let us remain realistic. Democracy and the democratic process is a constant effort in which are intertwined citizens, parties, institutions and media.

And here comes the question of doubts, about the vicious practices of buying votes, manipulated ballots, challenge to Bulgarian democracy, the second main theme, to which we will now pay attention. Buying votes is a problem for democratic electoral processes, but it is not a problem that can be solved through electoral legislation. Buying votes is a crime under the Penal Code. Therefore, the conversation must be conducted at this level, namely the judicial system seeking mechanisms for real solutions, not just trying to answer the question how we react to this vicious practice.

The third main topic - how to encourage young people to vote, how to increase voter turnout, questions that we often hear in the public domain. These are important issues, decisions that are associated with a rule that is the basis of representative democracy. This is based on politicians being responsible towards citizens who are active.

Many experts and politicians propose as a solution remote electronic voting on the grounds that this would increase voter turnout, and it will minimize the effects of excesses of vote-buying and manipulation. Can this idea, do you think, be implemented while ensuring, of course, the secrecy of the vote and freedom of expression? This raises questions about the legal framework and mechanisms to ensure the confidentiality of the vote in the electronic and remote voting.

Last year the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the possibility of experimental electronic remote voting on the grounds of the risk of violating the secrecy of the vote. In its judgment, the Constitutional Court found that electronic voting in itself is not unconstitutional, as is the kind of remote voting, such as postal votes, which has been practiced for many years in other countries.

Electronic voting is not new to Bulgarian electoral law. In the national parliamentary elections in 2009, in certain sections automated electronic voting systems were used. But are we to go further, to move to remote electronic voting? Surely, in the near future electronic voting will be the primary method of voting in the democratic world, given technological progress, but also in Bulgaria, as a result of the introduction of e-government. Remote electronic voting will increase voter turnout.

We saw last year how many Bulgarian citizens were counted online - 4.5 million. To date five million Bulgarian citizens on the Internet, 2.5 million Bulgarian citizens are on Facebook. Not only young people would benefit from electronic voting, but certainly also the disadvantaged. And Bulgarians abroad are 100 per cent online.

We will be happy to hear the experts and politicians on these issues. And finally, as Head of State, I would make an appeal to all political parties in the country. Let’s think not as rivals but as statesmen. Every party will endeavour to maximise its performance in the elections and that’s good, to implement its programme in the interest of its voters and citizens in general. But sometimes this desire leads to exacerbation of political passions, which must be carefully controlled. Too often the dialogue is positioned on the plane of the ad hoc, the black PR and defamation of political opponents at any cost. When this happens, the debate shifts from its foundation, political programmes, management decisions, the actual ideas and values, respectively, which we all profess. And this is crucial to the electoral process. Only in this way can we restore dialogue between the parties, voters and the electorate's trust in politicians.

In conclusion, a responsible attitude of parties to the electorate and the clash of ideas, rather than compromises, will surely bring people to the polls. The people are wise. People are unimpressed by manipulation and denigration of opponents during the election. But he will make an assessment, if in the parliamentary elections in 2013, those who did not win, shake the hand of the winner. The reputation of the state is important. It depends on what the elections will produce in 2013. Yes, we should think about voters, not the sake of election results. We have enough time, all year, until the regular election in 2013, let's prepare well and let us do so in the interests of citizens and democracy in Bulgaria.

Thank you and welcome to the forum.