European Parliament polls in final phase during big year for democratic elections

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Sofia, Jun 9 (PTI) In a year earmarked as one of the biggest in history for democratic elections around the world, nearly 450 million citizens in the European Union's (EU) 27 member states on Sunday wrapped up their four-day polling process to elect 720 members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

It comes just days after India concluded its mammoth general election and on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a third term for his NDA-led coalition.

Polling booths in the world's second-largest elections after India will close across the EU countries voting in their phased elections since June 6 at around 9 pm local time on Sunday, after which counting will begin for results to start pouring in from Monday.

In Bulgaria, the elections have an added layer as the country is simultaneously voting for its National Assembly — to elect members of Parliament for 240 seats alongside 17 MEPs. Both are elected from candidate lists according to a semi-proportional system, with an option to use a paper ballot or a voting machine.

"I am not optimistic that there will be a government," Bulgarian Vice-President Iliana Iotova told reporters at the John Atanasov Vocational School of Electronics in Sofia, where she was among the first set of political leaders to vote on Sunday morning.

"Let’s not forget that today, we’re also voting for (the) European Parliament. I voted for people who are well-prepared, who know what the Bulgarian interests are after 17 years [of Bulgaria being in the EU],” she said, according to the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency (BTA).

There is a lot of election weariness among the Bulgarian electorate, who are voting in their sixth national election since 2021. Shaky coalitions have meant that the governments have failed to survive a full four-year term.

"Whether and under what conditions there will be a government depends entirely on the parties and I hope they have learned their lesson — the hard lesson that they have to put public interests before their own," Bulgarian President Rumen Radev told journalists after voting at the McGahan Vocational School of Transportation Systems.

The country's Head of State also opted for machine voting and dismissed media concerns with electronic devices, which he said were the only safeguard against a big problem in elections of invalid ballots.

The European Parliament elections coinciding with the country's national elections this time are likely to have a positive impact on the voter turnout.

“The mandate that comes out has been fractured but this time, hopefully, it will be much more clear and a coalition will be quickly formed. This will also give a boost to relations between our countries,” said Sanjay Rana, the Indian Ambassador to Bulgaria, who has found the country’s electorate very impressed with the Indian voter.

“People here are also surprised how quickly the coalitions form in India and how stable our politics tends to be… We hope that the elections here, and the recently concluded elections in India would both give a big fillip to our bilateral exchanges and cooperation,” he said.

Sunday marks Bulgaria’s fifth European Parliament election since joining the EU on January 1, 2007.

The European Parliament is described as the world's only functioning transnational Parliament, in which MEPs from different countries come together in blocs according to their political ideologies.

While the Parliament is the only directly elected EU institution, it is less powerful than most national parliaments as EU policy is directed by the Council of Ministers, who are the elected leaders from individual member states. However, the Parliament does have the power to approve or reject members of the European Commission – the powerful executive arm of the economic bloc.

According to pre-election surveys, populist parties are widely expected to make gains and end up with more MEPs than the centre-right European Peoples Party (EPP), which has long dominated the European Parliament. PTI AK ZH ZH