By Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA (Reuters) - Lawmakers from Bulgaria's opposition Socialist Party (BSP) are leaving parliament for an unspecified period, saying fair elections could not be guaranteed following recent Election Code amendments.
As the Socialists control 79 of the 240 seats in parliament, the move, approved by BSP's national council on Saturday, could lead to numbers in parliament more frequently falling short of those it needs to pass legislation.
BSP, heir to Bulgaria's once-mighty Communist Party, said the legislation had been made "in the interests of companies and oligarchs, and behind-the-scenes party arrangements only in the interests of certain parties".
BSP, led by its first female leader Kornelia Ninova, criticized the ruling center-right coalition for failing to implement laws to improve the lives of Bulgarian citizens at a time when parliament's approval ratings have hit a new low.
Approval for the National Assembly fell to 8 percent in December, a survey conducted by independent pollster Alpha Research showed.
BSP set various conditions to remain in parliament, including the election of a new central election commission, a return to previous provisions on preferential voting, and a fresh debate on machine voting.
The amendments were voted through after a marathon 14-hour session on Thursday that raised the threshold for preferential voting and approved a gradual introduction of machine voting, as opposed to paper ballots, at Bulgaria's two major elections this year.
The Balkan country's European Parliament vote will be held in May, while local election will take place in October.
Preferential votes would now only apply if the candidate in question receives as many preferential votes as would be required to win a deputy seat in their electoral district. The threshold is seen as virtually impossible to attain.
The parliament also voted that machine voting would be used in at least 3,000 out of about 12,400 voting precincts at the European Parliament elections.
Some 6,000 voting precincts would be required to use voting machines at the municipal elections and a full switch to machine voting would be made at the next parliamentary elections in 2021.
BSP, which came second at the 2017 parliamentary election, winning 27.2 percent of the vote against 36.7 percent for the ruling GERB, also strongly opposed another amendment related to the election commission.
The Socialists see the revision as a way of suppressing the opinion of other parties' representatives in the commission.
GERB described BSP's decision as "a desperate move ahead of elections that it cannot win". Last week a Sova Harris poll showed that 20 percent of Bulgarians would vote for GERB at the European elections while 18.3 percent would support the Socialists.
"For me, this is an attempt of a creeping coup against the democratic processes in general," GERB lawmaker Spas Garnevski was quoted by the national radio BNR as saying.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Jan Harvey)