Urgent calls for a General Election in Bulgaria
by David Eade
Wed 1st May 2013
On Sunday 12 May Bulgaria will hold its general election. The outcome will not only be closely awaited by the people of that country but by fellow European Union States and organisations such as Transparency International, which has been monitoring corruption in Bulgaria for over a decade.
The President of the Party of European Socialists, Sergei Stanishev, is also the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and a former Bulgarian Prime Minister. After the election was called he stated: “During the last presidential and local elections in 2011 the ruling right wing party GERB committed a huge number of violations and fraud. Now they have introduced changes in the Electoral code in a way that hinders the transparency of the election process and creates prerequisites for distortion and frankly substitution of results, while refusing to incorporate a number of Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE)
recommendations.” He added that other socialist party leaders he spoke to were incredulous when he said vote rigging was possible in an EU member State.
This wasn’t the case of a socialist leader calling “foul” before the event. Transparency International has a special team dedicated to monitoring the General Election. TI says: “The most significant challenges that we have identified to persist in the electoral process in Bulgaria are vote-buying and controlled vote, which are clearly a product of the socio-economic conditions in country being taken advantage by both political and criminal actors.” Indeed in the 2011 presidential and local elections 12 per cent
of Bulgarians told Transparency International they would sell their votes with nearly 60 per cent of those saying they would do so because of their poverty.
Yet the problems for Bulgaria go much deeper than that. It is not just the GERB ruling party bringing in corrupt practices although there is clear evidence of that. For instance there have been allegations of illegal phone tapping which are linked to Tzvetan Tzvetanov, the former Minister of the Interior who is now the Director of Elections for the GERB party. However
Bulgaria has been behind the game all along in making the transition from Communist single party to democratic state.
One of the many Transparency International reports on Bulgaria states: “The problem of corruption became a central political and social concern in Bulgaria towards the end of the 1990s, and since then has topped the governmental agenda. Despite the prioritization of the issue, Bulgaria has systematically demonstrated very high levels of perception of corruption: according to the TI Corruption Perception Index (2011) it is the lowest scoring country in the EU. If there is a trend in this regard, it is rather negative.”
Now Bulgaria became a member of the EU in 2007 when the concerns of the corruption and lack of transparency in political and institutional bodies was well known. I have no problem with Bulgaria becoming a member of the EU: I would however argue that this should have happened after the country had clearly demonstrated that its political parties and institutions were fully transparent. Until that status had been achieved, and we are still far from that situation, then Bulgaria should have been helped along the path to membership by the EU and then admitted.
On 4 April, an Integrity Pact for Free, Fair and Democratic Election in Bulgaria was signed. The document is elaborated by 8 non-governmental organizations, including Transparency International, all of which will conduct independent civil monitoring of the forthcoming general election. Transparency International states: “The main objective of the Pact is to commit the political parties to the conduct of election campaigns in accordance to the standards for transparency and accountability, and to the
implementation of measures preventing violations of the citizens’ voting rights.”
This is a positive step but the question still remains: why should such steps be even necessary in an EU Member State?
Under the pact the Bulgarian political parties are committing themselves to:
To nominate for members of the Precinct Electoral Commissions candidates with experience in the organization of the electoral process, professional preparation, high personal moral and reputation;
To increase the competence of its representatives to the electoral commissions by conducting additional training with regard to the rules of the electoral process;
To carry out information campaigns against vote-buying, controlled vote and the negative effects on the voters’ rights, and the democratic process in the country;
To ensure public access to information about the number of proxy representatives, by making it available on their websites;
To ensure greater transparency of their elections campaign financing by providing timely information to the National Audit Office, with regard to received donations throughout the campaign;
To assist the independent observers - representatives of the Civil Coalition for Monitoring of the Electoral Process in their efforts to monitor the campaign financing and Election Day developments.
But it is not just the political parties that are involved but the non- governmental organizations too. They have committed themselves to:
To conduct independent civil monitoring of the electoral process in accordance to the internationally established standards;
To observe the principles of political impartiality, transparency and integrity in the monitoring process;
To carry out information campaign among the Bulgarian citizens with regard to their participation of the electoral process, institutional responsibilities, and negative effects of vote-buying and controlled-vote;
To inform the Bulgarian public and European institutions about the results of the conducted monitoring
To formulate proposal for amendments in the legislation and the practice of the Bulgarian institutions, aiming to enhance transparency and integrity in the Elections to the European Parliament, as well as to offer its expertise to the responsible institutions.
It is quite clear from the Integrity Pact for Free, Fair and Democratic Election that democracy has been seriously abused in Bulgaria and political corruption is rife. However I would firmly argue the blame for this appalling situation rests not only with the government in Sofia, which it surely does, but equally with the EU in Brussels too because it has failed to
insist on free and fair elections in Member States.