The price of a vote in a Bulgarian pub

You might not look twice if you saw a politician in your pub ordering a drink, but what about if they were trying to buy votes? Sadly, such a scenario might not be surprising to people living in one village in Bulgaria.

Ahead of the 2014 Bulgarian parliamentary election, Transparency International Bulgaria received a call from a concerned citizen about a vote-buying scheme targeting the minority Roma population in a small village.

According to the witness, a local pub owner was selected by a political party to coordinate the scheme in this village. Each person who voted for the political party would reportedly receive US$40.00-55.00 per vote. The catch was that the pub owner had to ensure the political party would win in that village. If they didn’t win, the money wouldn’t be paid out.

Transparency International Bulgaria immediately alerted law enforcement authorities. The regional police department initiated an investigation, successfully targeting the perpetrators to ensure the scheme would fail and not interfere with the election – which was only a matter of days away.

Fighting electoral fraud

While this incident ended well, electoral fraud in Bulgaria remains a major problem. During the election period Transparency International Bulgaria’s helpline rings off the hook. In 2014 alone, Transparency International Bulgaria received 202 election-related complaints.

Vote-buying is one of the top three corruption complaints received during elections, and each political party has reportedly been involved in similar schemes.

The complaints received show that vote-buying tends to happen more in rural areas, where people are often more impoverished and less educated than in urban areas. The voters targeted are more susceptible to this “short-term benefit” because they need the money.

While vote-buying and electoral fraud are against the law in Bulgaria, many of the charges are dropped in court. As a result, political parties can see that they may be able to get away with it.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of Bulgarians believe their political parties and judiciary are corrupt (76 and 86 per cent respectively) illustrates the scale of the problem.

Speaking up for clean elections

Ordinary people can make a difference. If people report suspicions of wrongdoing – such as the brave citizen who alerted us about this scheme – more investigations can take place. More investigations will ultimately lead to more court verdicts that fine and punish those guilty of electoral fraud. Reporting vote-buying and electoral fraud will send a clear message: Bulgarians want clean and fair elections.

Have you witnessed corruption or wrongdoing? If so, contact your local anti-corruption advice centre.

For any press enquiries please contact press@transparency.org

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