Romani success in local elections in Bulgaria

07 December 1999

In October 1999, for the first time in Bulgarian political history, genuine Romani parties participated with some success in local elections. Three Roma were elected village mayors and approximately sixty Roma were elected local councilors. The Bulgarian Constitution forbids the creation of political parties on the basis of religion or ethnicity, so Romani parties have been forced to avoid the word "Roma" in their names; instead, names such as "Free Bulgaria" and "Bulgarian Party for the Future" were used. The recent local elections indicate that there is a possibility that a Romani party may reach the 4% threshold and win seats in parliament in the next parliamentary election in 2001. Unlike ethnic Turks, the other significant minority in Bulgaria, in Parliament since the first free elections in 1990, Bulgarian Roma have thus far not been able to gain effective political representation. A simple calculation shows that Roma could achieve parliamentary representation only if a significant part of the Romani vote were united behind one party or electoral coalition. Roma comprise roughly 6-8% of the Bulgarian electorate. Romani NGOs, including political groups of different hues, united in 1998 to sign a National Program with the government (See "Snapshots from around Europe", Roma Rights, 1/99). Two Roma presently sit in Bulgarian parliament as representatives, but their parties do not effectively represent Romani concerns. Romani representatives are also currently present in the parliaments of the Czech Republic, Macedonia and Romania, and in the period 1990-1998, there were Romani parliamentarians in Hungary. Only in Macedonia, however, have Roma been elected to parliament as representatives of explicitly Romani parties. Romani mayors can be found in Hungary, Macedonia, Romania and Slovakia.

(ERRC, Human Rights Project)


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