Political Analyst Maria Pirgova: Wielding Fear, Bulgarian Ruling Party Arranged Unfair Elections
Exclusive interview of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) with Bulgarian political analyst Maria Pirgova on October 23-30 presidential and municipal elections in Bulgaria. Pirgova has been for many years teaching at Sofia University, where she currently is Associate Professor in the Political Science Department.
The pre-election opinion polls for the October 23 first round of presidential elections in Bulgaria turned out to be correct - ruling GERB party candidate Rosen Plevneliev came out first (with some 40% of the vote), followed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s Ivaylo Kalfin (29%). What are the most important factors for whether Kalfin is going be able to refute the forecasts for a Plevneliev win at the run-off this coming Sunday?
There are many factors that can contribute to that. One of the most crucial conditions will hold if the Bulgarian society comes to realize that the heavy concentration of power into just one political party, GERB, and further, in just one person, the GERB leader and Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov, is quite dangerous for the country. Any meaning in the division of powers would be then lost and the spirit of the Bulgarian Constitution would be undermined. And at any rate, up to know we have witnessed that the GERB party and its leader have been displaying a manifest disrespect for both Constitution and division of powers in particular.
Turning to purely electoral factors – those are the supporters of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the degree of mobilization within the Bulgarian Socialist Party, but also the authentic rightists and committedly democratic supporters of the old Union of Democratic Forces that drove the Bulgarian political right in the early 1990s. If those groups get mobilized to vote on Sunday, we may expect a switch of positions between Kalfin and Plevneliev. But such a scenario is not all too probable.
A negative factor for Kalfin is the weakness of the Socialist Party’s leaders. They seem to be unable to persuade the public that they are strong enough to resolutely oppose the policies that GERB is pursuing.
The GERB party has to its record an unprecedentedly stable level of support (on both presidential and municipal elections) after 2 years in power that were marked by an unfavorable economic situation. How do you interpret this fact?
I would say that GERB has been full-on preparing for the next elections right after winning general elections in 2009, and for those two years has done much in that direction. It has issued a flood of populist messages, it has flaunted brute force, it has inspired fear into people. To just give one example: GERB concentrates in itself a lot of power over free entnerpreneurs in Bulgaria. In Bulgarian society there is no social group that is really capable to oppose GERB’s economic policy.
For some the election of GERB’s Plevneliev for president would contribute to more stability to politics in Bulgaria. Others argue that a non-GERB president (in this case – Kalfin) would ensure a balance in the way Bulgaria is governed. Which do you think is the better option for Bulgaria?
I think the better outcome is definitely the presence of balances of power – both in domestig and in foreign politics. Rosen Plevneliev – both as a person and as a president – is prove incapable of emancipating himself from the executive and from PM Borisov in particular.
Given the unceasing reports of massive vote buying and countless other violations (e.g. the mess of ballot counting in capital Sofia), were elections 2011 free and fair? Why did not key actors in the country attract more attention to those problems?
Elections 2011 were not democratic, and a lot of facts speak in support of this conclusion. Fear within society has reached sky-rocketing levels. After the first round of elections, over 40% of people refused out of fear to respond to exit polls, which is happening for the first time during the years of democracy in Bulgaria since 1989. Those in power dared to unite into one the GERB party and functions of the state: Minister of Interior Tsvetan Tsvetanov was elected to be the official chair of GERB’s election campaign. The way elections were organized denied the right to vote to many persons who had lived abroad, or whose turn just could not come on the huge lines in front of voting stations.
Before elections one could hear commentators in Bulgaria saying that presidential elections are creating a nice fa?ade of uninteresting political correctness which is only hiding a fierce and unprincipled struggle in the concurrent municipal elections for local authorities. What do you think, has what happened in the first round confirmed those remarks?
To a large degree the presidential elections covered up many negative occurrences that were rampant at local elections – vote-buying, the control of employees’ votes by employers, etc. We must nonetheless note that in spite of the many violations on election day, elections went by peacefully, with no physical violence and with a relatively good degree of political culture on the part of voters who had to cope with a rather complicated case of voting.
Is the result of former EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, who came out third with 14% at the first round, a success or a failure? Given that some analysts have started talking about the potential for anew, liberal political movement that she might head, how do you envision Kuneva’s political future in Bulgaria?
Meglena Kuneva definitely made a strong showing. Her 14% are more than expected. But she gathered for herself a protest vote, which cannot by itself define a political space for her. I think that those who voted for her are not ready to follow her in a new political party. On the other hand there are a lot of ambitious politicians around Kuneva, who were with hear previously in the liberal National Movement for Stability and Prosperity. They will probably attempt to organize a new party, but this I think will be a very hard task.
Recent events led to speculations about a waning of influence of Ahmed Dogan and his Movement of Rights and Freedoms on ethnic Turks in Bulgaria. Do the Movement’s results in local elections confirm or disprove this hypothesis?
The electoral behavior of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – both during the campaign and during the elections – showed a high degree of mobilization and control on the part of Ahmed Dogan on his party. The Movement keeps on shutting out itself, but Dogan is not losing any significant influence after the splitting with this vice-chair and right hand Kasim Dal and the latter’s attempts to forge a division in the Turkish minority in Bulgaria.
Is it correct to talk about a dangerous concentration of power and for significant antidemocratic actions on the part of those in power in Bulgaria? If so, then why do you think voters do not react in due proportion?
I have already emphasized that I think that antidemocratic tendencies are indeed present in Bulgaria. The ruling GERB party are typical populists who disregard the institutions and Constitution. The question why voters do not react to that is more complex. It is possibly due to the fact that the actively thinking and more cultured part of society has introvertedly withdrawn away from politics during the period of transition from communism. Many people are tired and disappointed. Another reason lies in the fact that economic power in Bulgaria is tied to those with political power. There are monopolies in many sectors, especially in the media; there is practically no free media in Bulgaria. Elections and politics are now ever more frequently left in the hands of those with narrow education, who fall an easy prey to populists.
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