New Bulgarian Expat Association DA Fights for Voting RightsSociety | September 27, 2012, Thursday // 17:57| views
The logo of the Association Democratic Alternative.
Bulgarians living abroad should obtain the right to run and be elected Members of the country's Parliament, was the topic of the press conference of the newly launched expat Association DA.
The Association Democratic Alternative (DA) was founded recently by two well-known Bulgarian-born French journalists, Roumiana Ougartchinska, and Bozhidar Chekov.
At the press conference they reminded of the reasons that prompted them to undertake the difficult cause, and of their goal to provide to the Bulgarian public and media information about the right to vote as a basic human right. They also offered comparisons with France as an EU Member State, which has managed to achieve a Constitution giving equal voting rights to all French citizens regardless of their place of residence because the expats are represented in Parliament.
The founders explained the idea for such public debate stems from their realization of a deeply embedded contradiction in the Bulgarian Constitution, written in 1991. The "contract" between the State and the citizens acknowledges the election right as a basic one and guarantees equal rights to all citizens. Meanwhile, articles 65 and 93 ban Bulgarians living abroad from voting for their own Members of the National Assembly and from being elected as such, thus depriving them of representation.
The above, they say, is also in contradiction with the Charter of Human Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the Lisbon Treaty which guarantee the right of every citizen of the European Union to live and work wherever they wish, without losing their rights in their native country.
Ougartchinska and Chekov stressed that with one third of all Bulgarians permanently residing outside the country, and statistics showing a continuing exodus and depopulation trend, this is a key issue not only for the diaspora, but for Bulgarians living in Bulgaria. They insist the ban from representation is a form of discrimination, further deepening the division of the nation, which is detrimental for the homeland.
Law professor Guy Carcassonne, a French constitutional law expert, lecturer at the Paris X University – Nanterre, and participant in preparing the last amendments to the French Constitution, was a special guest of the event.
Carcassonne explained the Constitution is on one side the proclamation of basic rights and the organization of the State on the other, giving grounds for everything that forms a nation. He stressed national identity is the essence of everyone's identity like having a face and a name and everyone from a nation has the right to participate in its life.
"All citizens are voters, with certain restrictions such as young age or violators of the law. The Constitution postulates that all citizens have equal rights and the reverse – all who have equal rights are citizens. When your Constitution says that you don't have the same voting rights, it actually says you are not citizens and this is an unbearable contradiction from a democratic viewpoint. If people do not want to elect those who live abroad – this is their right, but to be banned from such vote is a violation of basic rights. I know some harbor doubts about those who have left their homeland, but regardless, the decision to leave does not deprive them from their passports and rights. There is also a pragmatic explanation – if these expats did not care for their country, they would not want to vote and be represented. This desire for inclusion simply shows attachment and interest. The question is - who is the better citizen – the one who lives abroad and has to apply effort to cast a ballot, such as traveling a long distance, or the one who lives in the country, but does not come out to vote?" the professor said.
Carcassonne gave as example Winston Churchill whose mother was American.
"If you have a Churchill among the diaspora, I advise you to elect him," said he.
The founders of DA also spoke about the controversial Act for Bulgarians and Bulgarian Communities Abroad, which was prepared by the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad. Under pressure from expats, the Bill was withdrawn from first-reading in the Parliament because it has been prepared by people who do not represent the diaspora; it does not address the issue of the representation and attempts to "categorize" Bulgarians outside the country.
The Association DA, along with other such organizations, also opposes the upcoming summit in Brussels planned as gathering and debate on the country's diaspora, under the patronage of the Presidency and Vice President, Margarita Popova, because it also omits the issue of election and voting rights.
In May 2011, Ougartchinska sent an open letter to Bulgaria's Ombudsman, focusing on the mass exodus from the country and discrimination of those, who have chosen to live abroad.
Ombudsman, Konstantin Penchev, reacted swiftly, sending a letter of support and later organized a round table on the issue, which was held in December 2011. The debate included representatives of all political parties in the Parliament, except the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, GERB, and the far-right, nationalist Ataka, of institutions, except the Presidency of now former President, Georgi Parvanov, and of Bulgarian expats. A consensus was reached on the need of a separate electoral region for the latter.
At the Thursday press conference Ougartchinska and Chekov stressed they do not want to rewrite the Election Code and the Constitution, which is within the authority of the Parliament, or to have lobby circles to work for their cause.
The journalists explained they just want to continue the open public debate until a consensus is reached and to find out why the Ombudsman's institution, which has submitted the decisions of the round table to all others involved, is obviously being ignored by them.
The Association DA (Democratic Alternative, DA meaning Yes in Bulgarian) is an organization which includes Bulgarian citizens leaving on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria or abroad. The goal of the Association is to implement a genuine European legislation that would guarantee equal rights of all citizens.
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