It has been a couple of weeks since European citizens were shocked: in solidarity with the Bulgarians, people from various corners of Europe have occupied social media with wholehearted messages of support for transnational democracy. The reason behind this is the complete failure of the phony national democracy in Bulgaria (despite 23 years of reforms often referred to as negotiated transition), in view of the latest parliamentary elections on 12 May. Some first-hand observations are worth sharing. Transeuropeans Borislava Miteva and Rosen Dimov from Sofia explain what they witnessed while assisting the OSCE election monitoring mission.
A propaganda-free day never actually did take place ! Although the law requires the day prior to the election to be in a vacuum of political messages so that the citizens can make up their minds for whom to vote, on Saturday May 11th the media echoed stories of 500 000 ballot forms that were produced in excess. The Prosecutor’s Office confirmed the information with very few details, thus igniting further tension among the political players, whose members then fell back on the media one by one, in a rush to influence – again illegally – the voters. The printing company that won the public tender to print the ballots turned out to be owned by a city councillor from the same political party (the former governing GERB) as the recently resigned Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov. Tsvetanov is know to have spent some 10 million Euro annually on wiretapping citizens against the background of minimal statutory salaries equivalent to 150 Euro. Later on during the pre-election day, it was announced that several thousand additional stamps were produced for the local electoral committees, so that the forgery plan intertwined in the election process could succeed.
On the Election Day what Rosen witnessed in the district of Varna were fake ballots and fake voting-protocols (where the election committee enters the data from the corresponding poll station), massive fraud (Roma votes being bought for 5 Euro) and police officers acting in favour of the former political party in power. The big bang, however, was in the middle of the night: the website of the independent Austrian agency SORA, contracted to carry out a parallel calculation of the votes, was hacked while the copying machines available to the election committees proved defunct. At that time, more than 450 sections – or 100 000 other votes (that is 3% of the electoral body) veiled in mystery: authorities could not confirm what was going on there. Investigative reports by NGOs and media sources showed that between 3 to 5 am, when most observers were resting, these 100 000 votes were changed; hence, the official aftermath meant a weak advance of 3,5% for GERB. SORA reported that some 14 000 ballot forms were invalid, but still included in the official calculations of the Central Electoral Committee.
As expected (and consistent with the perceived significant distrust among the Bulgarian citizens), various political parties appeared to exercise a wide-range of techniques to influence the votes in their favour. Apart from the alleged big-scale frauds in the form of fake ballots, stamps and protocols (generally associated with GERB) there were also some modest, yet by no means less efficient ways of vote influencing. For instance, in the district of Stara Zagora, Borislava together with two foreign observers witnessed encouragement by party proxies from Leader (marginal political party), Ataka (far-right, Eurosceptic party) and DPS (minority-representing party), who sometimes went as far as accompanying voters to the voting booth, especially in small villages where people know each other well. An almost comic occurrence involved one electoral-committee member who loudly admitted that he was “a person of BSP” (successor-party of the dictatorial Communist Party) upon recognising a delivery person: all in the name of receiving an abundant lunch box. Interestingly, identical lunch boxes in same-colored bags were seen in almost all poll stations visited by that particular team of observers.
Nevertheless, the nation-wide direct vote-buying cannot be undermined. In a friendly conversation with the chairperson of an electoral committee in a Roma neighborhood in the city of Stara Zagora, Borislava learned that the hamburger party (referring to the lunch boxes distributed by BSP proxies) did not do as well, because the Roma residents were not “such fools to sell [themselves] for a cheap lunch, when [they] could get much more money from Ahmed Dogan [referring to the chairperson of DPS].” During a long wait at the District Electoral Committee, the same election committee member explained that the delay was due to the “clean-up of the mistakes in the protocol”. On the other hand, long hours of waiting were the destiny of many of the other 482 election committees in the district of Stara Zagora, resulting not only from time spent on deliberate or unintended protocol mistakes, but also from the limits to the administrative capacity in the processing room, followed by the dreadful (non-)acceptance of the ballots and protocols by a committee comprising of deputies from rival political parties. Consequently, in the midst of thousands of people, in between rooms and line-ups, during long wait hours, the authenticity of the seals on the bags of ballots is, to say the least, questionable.
The exciting Election Day was followed by an even more curious event: the arithmetical winner in the elections, GERB, did not become the political winner; completely isolated and distrusted by the other parliamentary represented powers, the former governing party boycotted the sessions of the Parliament, including the constituent assembly. While pushing the Constitutional Court to revoke the elections (some 2/3 of the members were appointed through GERB-dominated procedures), the other parliamentary powers are attempting to form a government. The paradox of national “democracy” requires the Socialist BSP to join forces on one hand with the minority party DPS (Turks were particularly oppressed in the end of the Communist regime) and on the other – with Ataka which discriminates against national minorities, among which those of Turkish descent.