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Bulgarian tennis star leads the campaign for the introduction of electronic voting

25 September 2015 / 19:09:50  GRReporter
2785 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

For tennis fans, Manuela Maleeva is a sports legend who has been third in the world rankings. She played on the courts from a young age and as early as 1981, she won the Orange Bowl for girls aged under 14 and a year later the French Open.

Manuela Maleeva is the only Bulgarian tennis player who has won the Grand Slam. Her triumphant withdrawal from professional tennis was in 1994 when she won the tournament in Osaka. Since 1987, she has lived in Switzerland but has not interrupted her connection with Bulgaria. She has recently worked with the Swissclinical Foundation, which cares for children with orthopaedic diseases in Bulgaria.

The legendary tennis player has a very active civic position, which has recently been expressed through her participation in the initiative committee "Vote without borders". Its participants support the positive vote in the referendum on electronic voting, which will be held in Bulgaria and all countries where Bulgarian citizens are living on 25 October.

Today the initiative committee launched its information campaign in support of electronic voting. As its representative, Manuela Maleeva gave an interview for GRReporter, in which she explained the advantages of electronic voting and above all the need for its introduction.

Mrs Maleeva, why have you initiated the campaign in support of electronic voting? What are your reasons for this?

I believe that electronic voting is very important for Bulgaria. The people in the enterprising committee are my friends and we are all convinced that we are standing behind a good cause.

Electronic voting is important because in Bulgaria we need it for several reasons. Firstly, for people like me who do not live in Bulgaria most of the time - I live in Switzerland most of the time - voting is associated with a significant organization. Switzerland is a small country, the distances there are not very great but going to the embassy and on the day of the vote being where we can go to vote, is not always possible and is a difficult task. Moreover, many Bulgarians live abroad who have families in Bulgaria and therefore they care about what happens there. Consequently, electronic voting would be a great convenience for Bulgarians abroad.

The same applies for the Bulgarians living in Bulgaria too. Being able to vote from your own computer with two clicks is a huge convenience. Of course, traditional voting at polling stations will be preserved as well. I am saying this because some media in Bulgaria have started to disseminate information regarding its cancellation, thus logically embarrassing the elderly. Electronic voting will facilitate people with physical disabilities.

Another reason to insist on the introduction of electronic voting is that it is a way to reduce fraud. We are aware that the current system is not working at all. It is no secret that there is trade in votes, we know how they are collected, how much they cost, etc. The opponents of electronic voting say there are risks of a breakthrough in the system but at this stage, we are not discussing how to organize it. Experts from other countries may be invited for its introduction, where electronic voting has been introduced, so that the safest and the best system is created. Those who want to lie and cheat will always find a way, but I think that electronic voting will significantly prevent them from doing so. I think that one of the reasons for the opponents of electronic voting to fight so fiercely against its adoption is because they are aware that committing fraud will become much more difficult.

Electronic voting will be the unification of all Bulgarians. We are so divided at present, not only physically, but also in thinking. Anyway, the relations between us are now taking place via the Internet, we trust in banks that operate with our money online. I think that voting can also be done this way.

As a person living abroad, do you think that electronic voting would lead to increased voter turnout among Bulgarians outside Bulgaria?

Yes, absolutely. I see this among my friends in Switzerland while commenting on how much it will facilitate voting. All these Bulgarians have families in Bulgaria. Many of them want to return one day to a different and better Bulgaria. They have left for economic reasons but also because they are very well aware of what is happening in Bulgaria and they are looking for something else outside it.

I think voter turnout will significantly increase, and above all, among young people who use all these new technologies with great ease. It is important for young people to actively participate in the political life of Bulgaria.

How would you explain the negative attitude towards electronic voting on the part of much of the Bulgarian political elite and a large part of society?

As for society, I cannot be specific because those Bulgarians abroad whom I know have a very positive attitude towards electronic voting.

As for the political parties, consider how difficult it is to push in Bulgaria reforms aimed at reducing corruption and fraud. Maybe the answer should be sought there.

My opinion is that the status quo wants to keep the controlling lifestyle. It wants the people to continue to live in misery because they are most easily controlled in this way. Electronic voting gives a lot more freedom.

By the way, one of the objectives of the opponents of electronic voting is for the referendum to pass unnoticed, being scheduled with the local elections in which voter turnout is often low. Moreover, Bulgarians abroad have almost no information as these are local elections and because they cannot vote in them, the referendum remains totally unnoticed. And if we had not started to act on social networks, many people would never have understood anything. It strikes me just how they want the referendum to pass without anyone being aware of it.

It is also important that the people in Bulgaria be aware that the local elections and the referendum are two different things. They may not vote in the local elections because they do not like the candidates for mayor or councillors for example but they can vote separately in the referendum. They are not related which many people do not know and because they have decided not to vote in the local elections, they will miss the referendum too. I think it is very important to know this.

What will the messages of the campaign that you represent be? What is its goal and what are its target groups?

The main message for me is to unite, to be together. Only together can we fight against the status quo. This means including all Bulgarians who are living abroad.

The target groups in Bulgaria are young people, people with disabilities, people who want to change the status quo. Let those who want this recognize themselves.

You are living in a country with a great tradition in the organization of referendums and in direct democracy in general. What is the most valuable aspect of the Swiss experience, which can be imported in Bulgaria?

The most valuable for me is that the government consults citizens. It seeks public opinion. This is what referendums are for. There are such several times a year and the Swiss people decide how they want to live.

The opponents of electronic voting in Bulgaria are warning that elections will be held through referendums, of a system break-through... There is no need to associate the first electronic voting with elections. It can be held as a consultation to allow citizens to express their views on an issue.

In Switzerland, the government consults citizens and in Bulgaria, it does what suits the politicians at the highest level, in order to keep the status quo. We see what is happening with the judicial reform, how difficult it is to push it through. This is a fierce struggle because they fear that their absolute control will be disturbed.

In Bulgaria, not only is there no tradition to hold referendums, but there are people who vote in elections and consider the participation in referendums meaningless. How would you motivate them to vote now and why is it important to vote in referendums in general?

Because those who do not want to vote in referendums want to tell us, "You understand nothing, know nothing and you cannot decide."

No, on the contrary, citizens can decide. And we see that what has happened in Bulgaria over the past two years has happened under civil pressure. Any ways of breaking the status quo and the fight against corruption are only happening because citizens have raised their heads. The same applies to the referendum. Citizens have the right to express what they want and what they do not want. During all these years, the status quo aimed at making people lose their faith. This is its strongest weapon. And it is very easy to say that it makes no sense to vote, as things have been pre-arranged anyway. But we cannot wait for someone else from somewhere else to help us. We ourselves have to do it, the citizens of Bulgaria. Nobody will bring us a ready-made solution, because the status quo does not want it, only our civic opposition, our civilian power - to be together for radical changes, will do so.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask you a question which is off the topic but which is concerning society right now. It regards Grigor Dimitrov, as many have spoken out against him, including prominent sportsmen, in connection with his non-participation in the match between Bulgaria and Hungary for the Davis Cup. What is your opinion on this issue?

Yesterday I posted a status on this issue on my Facebook profile, just two sentences, "Stop, people. Will you hate Grigor now?"

We have no right to judge without knowing what life a tennis player has. I understand that people are disappointed but on the other hand, Grigor had a very tough year. We plan competitions and preparations a year ahead. Obviously, this would have disturbed his overall programme, in view of the search for a new coach and of the difficult year that he had in general. There was a lot of tension, he had to defend many results from last year and he has to perfectly prepare himself for next year.

These are common dilemmas for us. Let me just say that things for him are this way this year. Not to mention how many times Roger Federer had to refuse to play for Switzerland because tennis players have priorities. Their personal careers are more important, because Grigor represents Bulgaria worldwide anyway, and Roger, Switzerland. Currently Grigor is the most famous Bulgarian. Who are we to say that he has not acted morally and has not thought of Bulgaria? And to say it straight, I hate criticism from people who talk about morality and live in one of the most immoral countries in Europe. How can we agree to be governed by people like Peevski and say that Grigor is immoral. There is a huge gap here.

Hatred annoys me very much and so does the fact that it can pop up very fast and spoil one of the best things we have. The same thing happened to Dimitar Berbatov and Matey Kaziyski. This is something that really annoys me. Let this hatred pour down on our politicians, not on the people who represent Bulgaria worldwide.

Yes, in Bulgaria there has been a tendency to denigrate those who have succeeded abroad. How can we get rid of this negativity?

Just by breaking the status quo about which I spoke. They want us to hate each other. Parties such as Attack party create hatred. They divide and control us in this way.
 
That is why I am talking about unification, we should all be together. I cannot even be angry with the people who are speaking against Grigor and, therefore, I have called on them to stop and think about what they are saying. I have not spoken to him but only while imagining how he is feeling, I want to tell them to look at things from another perspective and not to react in such a primary manner and call him a traitor.

This is achieved through dialogue, education, otherwise they divide and control us in the worst possible way.

Tags: PoliticsEnterprising committee in support of electronic votingManuela MaleevaReferendum
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