Parliamentary Elections 2009 - Rebirth of the Bulgarian Democracy
Talking about a "crisis of democracy" is very common (though often unjustified) in democratic societies.
However, a very tangible and real crisis of democracy was still looming in Bulgaria just several hours ago. A sense of deep disillusionment and apathy producing low voter turnout among the general population combined with unyielding groups of voters based on ethnicity, religion, and age, and the so called "controlled vote" (i.e. vote buying, blackmailing employees) were just about to wreck the still young Bulgarian democracy.
The situation was pretty much reversed during the Parliamentary Elections on Sunday, July 5, 2009, as more than 60% of the eligible Bulgarians - well over 4 million people - cast their votes.
The above-mentioned specific demographic groups did repeat their usual vote for the respective political forces. And no doubt there was a lot of vote buying and other types of "controlling" going on.
Yet, the high voter turnout wiped out the effects of all that... however much money may have been spent on buying votes on Sunday, it is now safe to say that most of it went down the drain!
Apart from the unexpectedly high turnout, the other major surprise of the elections was the landslide victory of Sofia Mayor Boyko Borisov's party GERB - with a little over 40% of the votes, and 115-120 seats in the 240-seat Bulgarian Parliament, it is practically clear that, while GERB is short of an absolute majority, no government could be formed without it.
The factors fueling these two surprising events - the high turnout and GERB's overwhelming victory - seem to largely coincide. The economic crisis might have played some role, but it is safer to say Bulgaria's issues with corruption and organized crime (and frozen EU funds and Brussels' criticism), were certainly a more major factor.
This clearly played well into the image of Boyko Borisov, the former Interior Ministry Secretary, as a powerful man and a charismatic figure, and as being especially strong on anti-corruption and anti-crime measures. His actions are yet to be seen but in his interview for Novinite.com Borisov stated explicitly that people expected "a little justice", and that they voted for him as a policeman, rather than as a politician.
The other major factor that seems to have motivated a lot of Bulgarians to 1) vote, and 2) vote for GERB, and to a lesser extent for other rightist parties with various forms of patriotic rhetoric, seems to be role and behavior of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and its leader, Ahmed Dogan, in the government of the country.
Dogan's DPS has been in power (together with partners) since 2001, and a lot of ethnic Bulgarians seem to resent that not because of its association with the Turkish minority but because it is rumored and reported to engage in murky deals and well-oiled corruption schemes.
The catalyst of this sentiment came during the last few weeks when Ahmed Dogan made a number of public statements, clearly irritating to the majority of the Bulgarian citizens including that he was the "factor in power" that allotted public funds, and that if he had made one "deliberate mistake" over the recent years, "Bulgaria would have been different", apparently alluding to the ethnic peace in the country.
The very fact that one of the largest Bulgarian groups on Facebook - over 21 000 members - is called "Stop DPS" is indicative. There is hardly any evidence to suggest that sentiment is anti-Turkish in any way; rather, it appears to be clearly directed again the DPS as a specific entity. Dogan's recent statements were practically a wake-up call for many Bulgarian citizens over the role of his party in the country.
Understanding in depth the factors that led to the high voter turnout and to GERB's landslide victory is absolutely crucial for the next government. Because the whole array of issues a new GERB government would have to deal with includes not just handling the tense financial and economic situation, and destroying political corruption.
It also includes figuring out a brand new and very clever approach to the integration of ethnic minorities in Bulgaria (including dealing with the issue of the ethnic Turkish Bulgarian expats living in Turkey and voting in Bulgarian elections) and to dealing with the DPS as an entity in a very specific position.
Not least because during his post-election press conference Dogan clearly suggested that the ethnic situation in Bulgaria might get to become "sad". Whatever that might be intended to mean.
Whether it is the economic crisis, corruption issues, or the place of the DPS party, a lot more Bulgarians showed they cared during Sunday's elections. And this is Step No. 1 towards improving the situation, a rebirth of the country's democracy. Since no good can come from a modern participatory democracy without the participation of the eligible participants.