European Election Day: The Political Situation in Bulgaria

Much like in the case of Hungary, Bulgarian parties are trying to convince citizens to vote for the party itself, not for a specific candidate. Although the voting system in Bulgaria allows voters to express their preference for a candidate from a chosen list, parties are not eager to let voters have the chance to reorder their pre-set list of candidates. There is a chance for preferential voting to be dismissed as cumbersome and unnecessary, in case few people exercised their right to such an option at the upcoming elections (preferential voting is optional – one can also only vote for a party/coalition/independent candidate). Parties prefer this option and, therefore, focusing on party votes without shedding light on preferential voting. 

Politics in Bulgaria can surely be described as "interesting", and existing relations between the different actors are sometimes, to say the least, "very strange". Here is a brief overview on the political situation and main actors in Bulgaria in the last 15 years and a timeline of the ruling parties/coalitions in the period 2001-2014 needed for a better understanding of the current elections campaigning:

Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha - Bulgaria’s former king - became the only monarch in history to have won general elections in 2001 and therefore he remained Prime minister until 2005. As Simeon's party ranked second in the 2005 elections, he joined a coalition government with DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the ethnic Turkish party) and led by BSP (Bulgarian Socialist Party, left-centrist, at the moment part of the ruling coalition). In 2009 GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, centre-right, the abbreviation meaning “coat of arms”) won the elections and its leader, Boyko Borisov, became the 50th Prime minister of Bulgaria. He previously held the position of mayor of Sofia and was the bodyguard of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Todor Jivkov’s (the leader of communist Bulgaria). GERB could not finish his mandate at the beginning of 2013 due to wide-spread protests over government austerity measures. In the following early elections GERB was re-elected but refused the mandate as it could not form a coalition, while BSP and DPS managed to do so and a cabinet was appointed. Shortly after the left-wing coalition stepped in power, parliament appointed Delyan Peevski, a controversial MP, as head of the Bulgarian Security Agency DANS. This fact led to large scale protests still ongoing to the present date. It has become somewhat a tradition to expect newcomers on the political stage around voting time in Bulgaria. It is therefore, worth mentioning this year’s elections’ “newbies”: Nikolai Barekov’s “Bulgaria without Censorship” (BBT) party. Barekov is a former TV host and an executive director of TV7 television channel.

Given the unstable political situation in the country, it is obvious even from the parties campaign posters, that the EP elections will only be the milestone for possible early domestic elections this year. Most of the billboards/flyers don’t mention the EP elections or any elections, as a matter of fact. They only state the candidate’s number in the electoral bulletin and usually the slogan of the party. The parties, coalitions and non-affiliated candidates will compete for 17 seats at the European parliament.

Observing the overall promotion of European elections, EP information office’s campaign has been very well represented in Sofia in particular. EP’s office has organized a number of promotional events – setting up information pavilions, press conference for presenting the EUVOX 2014 project and, of course, social media promotion.

Simultaneously, campaign advertising on TV is taking place and there is a section about EP elections in every major online media in the country.

Below, are examined the billboards and posters that were hanging on the walls in Sofia. Interestingly enough, there haven’t been any billboards of the two major parties – BSP and the opposition GERB. Billboards of other parties/candidates also proved hard to be found. On the other hand, parties are using various grassroot methods – from concerts and other types of events to give out flyers in the street. 

A poster of the “ABC” movement. The leader of the party is Georgi Parvanov, former Bulgarian president and member of BSP and the leader of the list - Ivaylo Kalfin – EP member, former deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister. The creation of the political movement meant a division of the Bulgarian left with Sergei Stanishev (BSP and PES leader) blaming Kalfin for treachery as the latter was foreign minister of BSP. “Let’s save the Bulgarian, let’s revive Bulgaria!” reads the slogan on the poster. Then there is the name of the coalition: ABC which is the acronym for “Alternative for Bulgarian Revival” making a reference to the first three letters of the alphabet.  

“Roumiana Ugarchinska – the European choice”. Independent candidate. She is a writer, Bulgarian public figure and a French investigative journalist. Her political prioritiy is to find equality between “The New Europe” and “The Old Europe”; stimulating active European Union citizenship; a better dialogue between Bulgaria and the EU. We can also observe the EU flag in the upper left corner of the billboard, further emphasizing her priorities.

Coalition “Bulgaria without censorship” formed by the party with the same name and 3 others.

Slogan: “We, Bulgarians, deserve more!” 

This is a billboard of the TV station ALFA ATAKA that is (as the name gives out) the party TV station of ATAKA – one of the parties in the ruling coalition at the moment.

It states that this is “The TV of the truth” and the face that you can see belongs to the leader of the party – Volen Siderov. The white box with the number 20 was added later to the billboard and corresponds to the number that will stand for ATAKA on the upcoming elections.

The Central Electoral Commission received a complaint about the billboards shortly after the numbers were added. It was pointed out that the electoral regulations have been breached, because the billboards don’t state that buying and selling of votes is illegal (a must for all electoral campaigning materials in Bulgaria). The Commission, however, said that it is not a direct breach of those regulations, as the billboards don’t belong to Ataka itself, but to the TV ALFA Ataka. 

Later, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in favour of the Protest Network (the network that was started after the beginning of the antigovernment protests in June 2013). The Electoral Commission had to re-consider the case and as a result all billboards of the TV station that included the word “Ataka”, the number 20 and the face of Volen Siderov were removed.

Reformist Bloc, a centre-right electoral alliance consisting of 5 parties. Slogan: “Don’t sell your heart!”; “Make a choice!”. On the backside of the flyer there are a number of Bulgarian artists and singers encouraging citizens to vote.

The upcoming elections in Bulgaria will be a challenge on many levels. Though there has been some effort to promote the EP elections, the majority of people remain indecisive about whether or not voting. The main reason for that is the lack of information. The Central electoral commission, for example, released a video with instructions on how to vote. This video is, first of all, nearly impossible to find. Second, the talking and subtitles are going so fast that it is very hard to understand the content unless you watch the video a few more times. Like elsewhere in Europe, lack of elections-relevant information remains a big problem. In the particular case of Bulgaria the link between “elections” and “European union” seems to be lost and politicians are competing for voters with the EU still being a distant and abstract image.

The article was written by Yana Noteva and Yuliya Kosharevska.