Bulgaria Votes in Crucial National Elections
Bulgarians head to the polls on Sunday to elect a new parliament in the first general elections after the country's accession to the European Union.
A total of 6 884 271 eligible voters have been urged to cast a ballot in the poll, which comes amid resentment and disappointment over unfulfilled expectations after a long and hard transition.
The Socialist-led three-way coalition of Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev managed to usher Bulgaria into the European Union in 2007, but has been harshly criticized both at home and abroad for its failure to reform slow and corrupt courts, curb the powerful organized crime and clear up its act in the absorption of EU development funds. Blatant abuse by officials made Brussels suspend or scrap millions of euros in aid planned for agriculture and infrastructure.
The backlash that the ruling coalition, including the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms and the centrist National Movement for Stability and Prosperity, faces has fuelled the popularity of Sofia Mayor Boyko Borisov's GERB party, which is currently not represented in parliament. GERB already won the most votes a month ago in European Parliament elections, defeating the Socialists.
Sunday's elections come amidst concerns over vote-buying on an epidemic scale and have turned into a chance for suspected criminals to escape legal proceedings against them. Bulgarian law grants immunity from prosecution to candidates, and several facing charges of corruption and organised crime have registered to stand.
The elections will be observed by a number of foreign and Bulgarian organizations. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is sending 24 observers, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe - 19 observers.
14 Iraqi observers accompanied by officials of the National Democratic Institute in the USA are also going to attend the Bulgarian Election Day. The Iraqis are interested in observing the electoral process in Bulgaria in order to learn from the Bulgarian experience.
Nine Bulgarian sociological agencies with 4 971 pollsters are going to monitor the elections at 2 281 polling stations conducting exit poll research. Five Bulgarian civic organizations are also going to be observing the election process.
Under local legislation the Central Electoral Committee has to announce the final results and the distribution of MP seats no later than July 9. The names of the newly elected members of parliament should be known on July 12 at the latest.
Bulgaria's President Georgi Parvanov has announced plans to convene the new parliament as early as on July 14 amidst expectations that the new cabinet will be born in heavy labor.
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