The Perfect Storm Called Bulgaria's Central Electoral Commission
Nearly a week after the October 23 local and presidential elections in Bulgaria, allegations about violations and manipulations keep pouring in with demands for results' recall, voiced by a number of political formations.
The entire election and post-election process in the country can be described by one word – mess.
After the fiasco with the vote abroad, a number of Bulgarians ended up being deprived of their right to vote due to inconsistencies in the databases of the Directorate General of Civil Registration and Administrative Service (GRAO) and the Interior Ministry - the authorities confessed in the aftermath that a total of 12 000 eligible voters had been erroneously taken off electoral rolls over the residency clause.
Scores of Bulgarians waited in line for hours on Election Day, many puzzled by the complicated requirements for filling the ballots, at places tall almost as the height of the candidates. Voting sections were insufficient in numbers and inadequately staffed.
A more sinister nightmare unfolded after the closing of the polls, well into the following Monday with chaos erupting at Sofia's Municipal Electoral Commission (OIC), and at a number of other locations, when commissions from voting sections flocked to submit in their ballots and protocols.
In Sofia, the scene inside Universiada Hall, where documentation was collected, reminded of a refugee camp or the New Orleans Convention Center after hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005 - starved and exhausted people, freezing outside in the cold or sleeping inside on bags filled with ballots...
Some took the ballots home; others abandoned them at locations all over the capital - pictures of torn bags and strewn all over ballots emerged.
Bulgaria's Central Electoral Commission (CEC) admitted that 35 election protocols from the mayor elections in Sofia are missing and have been filled in at OIC. It remains unclear why this happened or how the Commission retrieved the data.
The invalid ballots from both votes reached the unprecedented 6.4% (2.6% in 2006) of all ballots cast.
Some say the ruling GERB is the reason for all the mayhem for wanting to make sure it scores a certain victory. This, however, is highly unlikely – maybe Interior Minister and Head of GERB's Election Headquarters, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, or local GERB activists have been overzealous, but directives coming from Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, seem unlikely - his ego points to becoming the winner on the white horse, not on claims of manipulations.
The answer lies in the flawed new Election Code with the mindboggling requirements, the usual shortage of funds, and mainly in the election authorities starting with CEC – understaffed, underpaid, incompetent and untrained, selected on political, not expert quotas.
This is what needs to be swiftly remedied, otherwise Bulgaria better relies on polling agencies in announcing election results.
To top it all, CEC finished the ballot count and announced the official results nearly two days beyond the legally set deadline, demonstrating once again that law in Bulgaria boils down to a mere recommendation.