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Bulgaria: Rock bottom election turnout exposes accountability failure of political class

Bulgarian politics faces a dramatic crisis of faith.

On 12 May 2013, Bulgarians were due to go to the polls to elect their national government. Barely half of eligible voters turned up.

Hundreds of electoral violations identified by Transparency International Bulgaria and other independent election monitors must be investigated and punished if faith in the democratic process is to be restored.

Politicians can restore faith by living up to their promises to campaign against vote-buying and disclose their campaign funding. These promises were part of an integrity pledge organised by Transparency International Bulgaria.

The political parties in Republic of Bulgaria hereby commit themselves to facilitate the conduct of fair, democratic and transparent elections."

Integrity Pact for Fair Elections signed by 22 Bulgarian political parties on 4 April 2013

Elections marked by protests and negativity

At 53 per cent, Bulgaria’s lowest voter turnout in modern history reflects the deep-seated apathy many Bulgarians feel towards the political class in their country.

In 2012, hundreds demonstrated outside parliament after an artist was arrested for throwing a single tomato at parliament to protest corruption.

Bulgaria’s score out of 100 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012. Only Greece performs worse in the EU.

Social unrest and street protests escalated in February and March, representing the broad public discontent with political elites in the country.

Public participation in the elections was also discouraged by the unsubstantial election campaigns run by the main political forces in the country. The election has been dominated by a “war of smear campaigns”.

Elections marred by foul play

For 10 years Transparency International Bulgaria has sought to unveil vote-buying and controlled vote (intimidation to vote for a particular party, by employers for example) practices and remove them from the electoral process. Unfortunately, the whole political process has seen serious degradation in recent years.

This election once again left the bad taste of serious malpractices.

On election day alone, Transparency International Bulgaria received more than 239 reports of electoral malpractice:

  • 14 acts of vote-buying,
  • 56 acts of voter intimidation,
  • 37 acts of electioneering near polling stations
  • and a further 132 reports of severe malfunctioning of the electoral administration.
Election monitoring map, Bulgaria 2013

In one case, more than 450 voters were registered as having voted in a single polling station within two hours. If this were the case, each of them would have had less than three seconds to enter the polling station, have their ID checked, receive a stamped bulletin, go to the ballot booth, vote, sign the voters list and leave.

A map of election violations prepared by Transparency International Bulgaria shows the scale of corruption in each of the country's districts.

Transparency International Bulgaria complemented official election observation with the help of more than 250 volunteers throughout the country.

Are politicians sticking to their pledges?

Bulgaria’s political parties must act rapidly to restore faith. Their integrity pledge commits them to:

  • carrying out information campaigns against vote buying and the controlled vote
  • promptly providing up-to-date information to the Bulgarian National Audit Office regarding the contributions received in the course of the election campaign

These promises were part of an integrity pledge organised by Transparency International Bulgaria.

Better oversight and organisation of elections needed

Bulgarian politicians have committed to more transparent politics and elections, but the authorities need to enforce the promises.

The EU’s last monitoring report in 2012 for Bulgaria called for stronger sanctions for anyone violating the law on conflicts of interest and a revision of asset declaration procedures to better detect illicit enrichment.

In February, the European Parliament debated the state of democracy in Bulgaria, describing it as a "weak link" in the EU and a threat to European values across the continent.


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