Read the Fine Print: Vote Buying and Selling Is Illegal in Bulgaria
In the eve of Bulgaria's elections and on the backdrop of large-scale smear campaigns and a few lackluster debates marked by bickering and mutual accusations of all kinds of failures, the international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, published a report noting fears of large-scale vote buying and manipulations in the counting of the ballots.
Transparency International also released data from a recent poll showing that 12% of Bulgarians would sell their vote with 58% of them saying they would do it out of poverty, while the rest are driven by the impunity, incompetence, and corruption of local authorities. 6.8% of the respondents explain they would turn down an offer to sell their vote because the payment is too little.
The Central Electoral Commission is reported to be in disarray while the vote of Bulgarians abroad is ruled by chaos and blunders. Reports about vandalized campaign headquarters, beaten candidates and vote buying are pouring from all over the country. Experts, monitor,s and NGOs say this is unprecedented even for Bulgaria.
In addition to the vote buying and selling (ranging from BGN 50 to 500, depending on how lucrative the municipality is) there is also information of a record "controlled" vote, which is much harder to trace – stores giving free food and medications, threats from employers and pressure from family members.
The mandatory for every campaign tool statement "Vote Buying and Selling Is Illegal in Bulgaria" turned so empty of content that it reminds of a "read the fine print" disclaimer.
The new Election Code, brainchild of the latest Parliament, seems desperately flawed, stirring confusions, complaints and raised eyebrows. In a recent interview, Deputy Chief Prosecutor, Valeri Parvanov, admits the hands of his office and the police are tied in dealing with electoral violations over loopholes in the Code.
Holding presidential and local elections on one day has shifted the attention towards Sofia, however, local municipalities are the places where the most brazen and money-spinning corruption deals take place, making the fight for votes epic.
As the authorities seem helpless in dealing with election violations and those who sell their vote are unlikely to change their mind, hitting the poles and casting ballots in large number seems the sole remedy. The high turnout of Bulgarians not willing to sell is the one way to counter "brokers and traders," and to make these elections at least somewhat honest and fair – tournout this time around will be the litmus test for the embattled Bulgarian democracy.