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Bulgarian president seeks a referendum on voting rules

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev speaks during a news conference in Sofia May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev speaks during a news conference in Sofia May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev proposed on Wednesday to ask the public how election rules might be changed and boost their low trust in political institutions in the wake of massive protests last year.

Plevneliev proposed a national referendum in which Bulgarians will have their say on whether they want to elect some lawmakers directly rather than from party lists, voting made obligatory and electronic voting allowed.

At present, Bulgarians can choose 240 parliament members only from party lists.

The plebiscite, which is pending parliament approval, should be held along with the European vote in late May, Plevneliev said in an address to the nation late on Wednesday.

"I appeal to the parliament to take a decision to hold a referendum ... I believe will help to stabilize the institutions and increase public trust," he said.

Street protests in Bulgaria, one of the European Union's poorest and most corrupt members, have demanded voting changes to hold politicians more accountable.

Recent polls showed trust in the parliament had plunged to 10 percent, the lowest since the fall of communism 25 years ago.

The ruling Socialist-led coalition, with a fragile majority in parliament, won approval on a first reading for a new election law which would not introduce direct voting or compulsory and electronic voting.

The right to choose some lawmakers directly will answer to public demand, said Plevneliev, who was elected president in 2011 on the ticket of the opposition centre-right GERB party.

Compulsory voting would boost the legitimacy of results, fight voter apathy and decrease the effects of possible vote buying, he said. It would also ensure that parliament was not monopolized by those who represented party members.

"Let the voice of the people be heard, not bought," Plevneliev said.

The ruling Socialists and their ethnic Turkish MRF partners have opposed the idea of compulsory voting, pointing out that it would mean penalties for those who refused to cast a ballot.

Obligatory voting is likely to reduce the representation for the MRF party in the parliament, as ethnic Turks, who make up about 9 percent of the 7.3 million population, are relatively active voters.

Plevneliev argued that electronic voting would help tens of thousands of Bulgarians living abroad participate in elections.

The Socialists have said that the e-voting will be hard to secure technically and could be manipulated by hackers.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Andrew Roche)

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