Bulgaria's bid to bring back paper ballots sparks fears over election corruption

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By Euronews  with AP
Protesters hold posters that read: "Will we allow them to steal our vote?" as hundreds of Bulgarians gather in front of Bulgarian Parliament on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.
Protesters hold posters that read: "Will we allow them to steal our vote?" as hundreds of Bulgarians gather in front of Bulgarian Parliament on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

Hundreds of people took to the streets of the Bulgarian capital on Thursday to oppose an electoral change bringing back paper ballots. 

The new caretaker government wants to revise the Election Code to reinstate paper votes after the previous reformist leaders replaced them with digital voting machines. 

An alliance of the We Continue the Change (WCC) party and Democratic Bulgaria urged people to protest, claiming the switch was an attempt by the “old establishment” to corrupt elections. 

Though the ruling GERB party won the most recent election in October, securing 24% of the vote, the Balkan country's political landscape is fragmented and unstable. October's vote was the fourth in a year and a half.  

Police sealed the parliament to prevent any possible attempt by demonstrators to enter the building, but the protest remained peaceful.

Kiril Petkov, leader of WCC, urged Bulgarians to stand up for their rights and avoid what he called the theft of future elections. 

“Today is the day when the democratic vote of every Bulgarian citizen will be substituted, the day when we open the door to 15% invalid ballots when the distortion of the vote makes the whole system work corruptly,” he said ahead of the demonstration. 

"Continue to defend your rights, we hope you will support us,"  Petkov added. 

Changes to the Election Code were approved last week during an all-night sitting of the National Assembly's legal affairs committee. 

They were supported by the GERB party of three-time Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the Socialist Party and a party representing Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish citizens.

The hasty move comes amid a political stalemate with the European Union, worsening economic conditions in a country hit by soaring inflation and energy costs.

Bulgaria -- Europe's poorest country -- currently is governed by a caretaker government with reduced powers. 

The October election produced a fragmented parliament, while efforts to form a viable governing coalition have proved fruitless, tripping the country towards yet another election early next year.