Alina Garkova, an observer of ISI in Brussels: Basic civil rights were violated
Alina Garkova, an observer of ISI in Brussels: Basic civil rights were violated

Hundreds of Bulgarians in Belgium failed to exercise their constitutional right and civil duty (civil duty due to the changes in the Electoral Code, in force since May 2016) to vote in the 2016 Presidential elections.

It was not because of lack of willingness on the part of Bulgarian voters living abroad (Brussels in particular). The reason was their deliberate obstruction by the newly adopted amendments to the Electoral Code, about which Bulgarians abroad were not notified due to lack of information campaign.

According to the changes in the Electoral Code, and more specifically art. 151, an additional polling station can be opened abroad only when there are at least 500 civilian applications received. The number of civil applications substantially exceeds the requirements for the country, as well as the previous requirements under the Code. The text in the Electoral Code is itself contrary to the adopted law on mandatory voting and other provisions in the law described in the text below. After voting became mandatory, public authorities, CEC in particular, should have foreseen a higher voting activity abroad than the average. This implies increasing, NOT limiting the number of polling stations (also given the option for double voting (presidential elections plus a referendum).

In Brussels, I was an observer in the section at the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Bulgaria; PEC members shared that their experience from previous elections showed that between 2-3 000 voters vote in Brussels. According to the new Electoral Code though, which should have expected an increased activity, both at home and abroad, the opened section in PR in Brussels allowed only for 900 Bulgarian citizens to fulfill their duty and exercise their constitutional right. CEC is aware of the average voting activity in Brussels. Despite the signals that citizens, observers and PEC filed to CEC about the lack of capacity to serve everyone, nothing was corrected.

At the end of the day, it turned out that PEC members, who had the good will to continue servicing citizens after the deadline (and who had worked without violations and without having breaks throughout the whole Election Day), were blocked by CEC as the unauthorized extension of the Election Day would be considered a violation.

On the other hand, there was indeed a violation of the civil and constitutional rights of citizens as they were denied the right to vote even though they had arrived within the legal time (before 8 p.m.). Their civil rights were also violated by the fact that their IDs were not collected (despite the requirement of the Electoral Code). Furthermore, PEC refused to issue certificates to those citizens whose identity documents were not taken. In this way, citizens were deprived of legitimate evidence that they were present at the polling station within the legal deadline.

Based on the observations of the Election Day in Brussels, as well as on the fact that hundreds of Bulgarians who had waited for 3-4 hours within the legal deadlines were not allowed to vote, I can conclude that the changes (and the presence of contradictions) adopted in the text of the Electoral Code aim at deliberately limiting Bulgarian citizens’ participation abroad.