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Could the outcome of the European elections be decided in Turkey?

Nationalists blocked the border with Turkey ahead of the March 2017 election [Dnevnik]

What can be the connection between a one-billion euro deal for F-16 fighters, the elections for the European Parliament, the direct democracy and the stability of the ruling coalition in Bulgaria? The answer is – DPS, the Turkish minority party in Bulgaria, which has been acting as the informal coalition partner of GERB over the last year.

On 16 January the government passed the deal for the purchase of US F-16 fighters through the parliament with the decisive support of DPS. This force’s support was crucial because the United Patriots’ coalition which is the official partner of GERB wasn’t united for the deal. ‘Ataka’, a pro-Russian party, voted against the deal. So did the “National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria”, which is an anti-Russian formation. GERB had only the support of VMRO-BND, whose leader Krasimir Karakachanov is the defence minister. But the vote of GERB and VMRO MPs were not enough, so DPS had to save the government’s biggest deal, which was jeopardised by the nationalists.

DPS didn’t miss the opportunity to tell GERB that the government had no chance without its support.

“The decision [for the purchase of the F-16] is political and strategic for the country and we support it. But we come to the question is GERB capable to provide such a political and strategic majority of the ruling coalition on this political and strategic issue. If they cannot – what kind of government is this? In which interest is this government? These are rhetorical questions,” DPS leader Mustafa Karadayi said in parliament.

The question is really rhetorical. DPS takes advantage of the weak ruling coalition of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. The party manages to push its interests without taking any responsibilities. Now DPS does not hide what it wants in return – a solid bonus for the upcoming elections. On 17 January, the day after the decision for the F-16, DPS Deputy Chairman Yordan Tsonev announced that the party wanted important amendments in the Electoral Code.

All Bulgarian citizens who have lived during the respective year for at least three months on EU territory (which includes Bulgaria) have the right to vote in the European elections. Those who have been absent for more than three months cannot. For local elections, the law gives the right to vote to all citizens who have lived in Bulgaria for at least six months during the respective year. There are no restrictions only for the parliamentary and presidential elections. The sedentary restriction is the biggest problem for DPS because it eliminates from the vote Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin who permanently live in Turkey. This diaspora is of almost 300,000 people. They vote for DPS very compactly and this has a huge impact on the results of the Bulgarian elections. Now DPS demands these restrictions to be lifted.

In 2014 elections for national parliament and for European Parliament took place in Bulgaria. The citizens with a Bulgarian passport in Turkey were unable to vote in the European elections. At the netional elections, DPS won 487,000 votes with support from the diaspora in Turkey. The result of DPS in the European elections was exactly 100,000 votes less.

With the expected low turnout for the European elections in 2019, the vote from Turkey would help DPS to affirm itself as the third most powerful political power in Bulgaria. This would give this party the chance to have four MEPs. Bulgaria will send 17 MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg. There are many factors in favour of DPS. If the nationalists participate in the elections divided, their lost vote will be re-distributed mainly between GERB, BSP and DPS.

A good score at the European elections would increase the influence of DPS in the national parliament. It will also be good for the party’s self-confidence before the local elections in October. Moreover, DPS needs a good positioning if early parliamentary elections would be triggered.

So far, there are no indications from GERB that the DPS’s request will be fulfilled. The political price for the image of Borissov would be too high because Bulgarians do not look positively at the votes from Turkey. Eight years ago, for the local elections, DPS organized special buses from Turkey so that their people could vote in the local elections. This was an irritant for the whole society. The DPS’s courage to demand the lifting of the restriction shows that this force has no problem to tell Borissov he is left with no other choice.

DPS has two other demands which GERB will probably accept. The first one is to remove the ban on foreign language agitation for the elections, respectively in Turkish. DPS also insists for the abolition of the preferential vote. Bulgarian law gives citizens the right to choose a favourite from the party list. When a candidate gets many preferential votes, he or she may replace candidates higher in the list, including the leader.

DPS has internally decided not to comply with the preferential vote. Only in DPS candidates who get preferential vote are obliged to give their seats to the party’s favorites. Any disobedience is punished with exclusion from the party. According to unofficial information, GERB is willing to please DPS with abolishing the preferential vote. This will lessen direct democracy in Bulgaria, but Borissov would pay back for the DPS support in the National Assembly.

The accusations against the prime minister that he has opened the doors to DPS in power are increasing in the last months. This claim was made by BSP leader Kornelia Ninova and by the largest parliamentary formation outside the parliament — the liberal pro-European coalition ‘Democratic Bulgaria’. Former DPS deputy leader of DPS Kassim Dahl made a similar observation.

“GERB is working very well with DPS, look at the financing of the municipalities in the country (ruled by DPS) and you will see we are talking about. DPS is trading with influence”, Kassim Dahl said.

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