Bulgaria’s EU elections: Rehearsal for national poll

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EU elections will take place in Bulgaria on 7 June, less than a month ahead of parliamentary elections on 5 July, which will renew the 240-seat parliament and possibly change the format of the governing coalition, which has been in place for the last four years.

Background

Bulgaria will elect 17 MEPs this year, one less than in 2007. This is because the number of MEPs will have to be reduced from 785 to 736 in the 2009 elections, which will be held under the terms of the Nice Treaty. Should the Lisbon Treaty come into force in 2010, Bulgaria will once again have 18 MEPs, from a total of 751. 

Recent surveys paint a grim picture when it comes to expected turnout. During the first EU elections in Bulgaria in 2007, turnout was 28.6%, and according to the latest Alpha Research poll, 30% of the electorate is expected to vote this time. 

Average turnout among the 25 countries in the 2004 poll was 45.5%. 

Issues

'Dress rehearsal' for national poll 

National elections, which are seen as more important, will take place less than a month after the EU poll, and the campaigns for both polls in fact overlap. A nationwide discussion took place in Bulgaria as to whether or not to merge the two polls. In the end, for constitutional reasons it was decided that the national poll must not take place on an earlier date. 

The EU elections are also being overshadowed by controversy following the ruling coalition's move in the national parliament to raise the electoral barrier for coalitions from four to eight percent. The move is seen as an attempt by the BSP and DPS (see below) to prevent the country's battered traditional centre-right parties from entering parliament. Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov vetoed the legislation, but the parliament voted again on the text to bypass the presidential veto. Despite this move, the Constitutional Court intervened at the last minute on 12 May to re-establish the barrier at 4%.

Major players 

The political landscape in Bulgaria appears to have changed over the last four years. Many of these changes were already made apparent by the 2007 EU poll. On that occasion, an important new political player appeared – the centre-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), a political project built around the personality of Boyko Borrissov, current mayor of Sofia. 

GERB won the 2007 elections by a narrow margin (21.68% against 21.41%), beating the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Each political force sent five MEPs to Strasbourg. The influence of GERB appears to be strong. According to the latest Alpha Research poll, it would win the elections again with 23-24% of the vote, followed by the BSP with 14-16%. GERB is affiliated to the centre-right EPP-ED group in the current European Parliament (EP). 

The other main players are the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS), primarilty an ethnic Turkish party, set to score 7-8% according to the same opinion poll, and Ataka ('Attack'), a nationalist party with similar predictions as DPS. In the 2007 European elections, DPS scored 20.26% and sent four MEPs to the Parliament, two of Bulgarian and another two of ethnic Turkish origin, while Ataka obtained 14.20% and three MEPs. The DPS is affiliated to the liberal group in the EU assembly, ALDE, while the MEPs from Ataka are independent following the collapse of the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS) political group in the EP (EURACTIV 15/11/07). 

Smaller actors 

The Alpha Research poll suggests that three other political groups have a chance of sending one MEP each: 

  • NDSV, a political movement launched in 2001 by Simeon Saxe-Cobourg Gotha. NDSV stands for 'Simeon the Second National Movement', but the movement was recently renamed the 'National Movement for Stability and Progress', keeping the same acronym. Simeon the Second was an infant king of Bulgaria from 1943 to 1946. Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva has announced that she will lead the EU election list of NDSV (EURACTIV 27/04/09). NDSV is affiliated to the liberal ALDE group in the EP. 
  • 'Order, Law and Justice' (RZS), a recently-established maverick party with a populist anti-corruption platform built around the personality of Yane Yanev, a former Agrarian Party leader. 
  • A 'Blue Coalition' between the former anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) and its rival party Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB), the latter built around the personality of former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov (1997-2001). The relationship between these players is complex, while SDS has been weakened by internal in-fighting. 

Changed political landscape 

Should GERB win the national elections, it would need to form a coalition, replacing the current Socialist-Liberal one between BSP, NDSV and DPS. In recent statements, GERB leader Boyko Borissov dismissed the possibility of a coalition with the socialists, although according to political analysts, such a coalition would provide more stability than other combinations. 

According to sources quoted by Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner in Bulgaria, GERB and the 'blue coalition' will wait for the results of the EU elections before deciding whether to follow a common election strategy for the national poll. 

Candidate lists

The Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) announced their list on 12 May. First on the list are current MEPs Rumiana Jeleva and Vladimir Urutchev. Number three is a member of GERB's economic team, Iliana Ivanova. Number four is Emil Stoyanov, a media publisher who is also the brother of former Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov (1997-2002). 

The latter move is seen by the Bulgarian press as a furter rapprochement between GERB and SDS, as the Stoyanov brothers belong to that political force. Next are Maria Nedelcheva, a researcher currently working in France, Andrei Kovachev, a scholar currently working in Germany, and Monika Panaiotova, leader of the GERB youth movement.

The Bulgarian press is focusing on the absence from the list of Nickolay Mladenov, a current GERB MEP. Party sources explained that Mladenov had bene offered a ministerial position in a possible future GERB-dominated government, and had accepted this. Current MEP Dushana Zdravkova does not appear on the new list either.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) announced their list on 14 May. The current Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivaylo Kalfin tops the list, followed by current MEPs Iliana Iotova, Kristian Vigenin, Evgeni Kirilov and Marusya Lyubcheva. Sixth comes Rumyan Russionov, the head of a Roma organisation

The nomination of the current foreign minister was seen by the Bulgarian press as an indication that he would be the BSP candidate for Bulgaria's next European commissioner.

The Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS) has also published its list, which is topped by current MEPs Vladko Panayotov and Metin Kazak. The next names are Korman Ismailov, Iskra Mihailova and Nedjmi Ali.

The list of National Movement for Stability and Progress (NDSV) is topped by current EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, followed by Antonia Parvanova, a current MP and a doctor by training, and Stanimir Ilchev, a current MP and a former journalist. Fourth on the list, in a position seen as ineligible, is Bilyana Raeva, the only current MEP from NDSV.

The top three names from the 'Blue Coalition' are Nadezhda Mihailova, a former foreign affairs minister (1997-2001) and former SDS leader, Svetoslav Malinov from DSB, and Petya Stavreva from the Agrarian Party led by Anastassia Mozer.

Ataka's three top names are current MEPs Dimitar Stoyanov, Slavcho Binev and Desoslav Chukolov. The next names are Dimitar Taralejkov and Dantcho Hadjiev.

Libertas Bulgaria denied registration

Ten parties and three coalitions have registered for the European elections, a spokesperson for Bulgaria's Electoral Commission announced on 13 May. He added that only one coalition had been denied registrationL 'Libertas - The Free Citizens'. The reason h e gave was that the coalition had failed to produce proof of a bank deposit. 

Bulgarian law requires parties to deposit 50,000 leva (25,000 euros), while coalitions must provide double that amount. If a party wins more than 1% of the vote, or a coalition more than 2%, this money is refunded. When this observation was made to Libertas representatives, their reply was that "only oligarchs can afford such deposits".

Vote buying 

Vote buying has become a common phenomenon in Bulgaria in recent years, with impoverished people, especially among the Roma minority, selling their vote for small amounts of money. According to a recent study by the Open Society Foundation, some 30% of the population has not ruled out selling their vote for prices ranging from 25 to 100 euros. 

The study also revealed that 11% of the population is unaware that vote-selling/buying is considered a crime. A further 3% even believe that it is an "established European practice". 

The latest European Commission monitoring report on Bulgaria, carried out under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism put in place to accompany the country's EU accession, expressed 'serious concern' over vote-buying in Bulgaria. 

The report cites the Centre for the Study of Democracy, which estimates that money spent buying votes exceeds BGN 200 million (more than EUR 100 million). The report deplores that 294 registered cases of vote-buying have resulted in the imposition of only one fine of 1,000 BGN (500 euros). 

Timeline

  • 20 May 2007: After its accession on 1 January 2007, Bulgaria held its first European elections, sending 18 MEPs to Strasbourg.
  • April-May 2009: Political parties unveiled their lists for the first EU elections to be held across all 27 member countries at the same time. 
  • 7 June: European elections take place in Bulgaria, when campaigning for the national elections will already be underway. 
  • 5 July: Parliamentary elections take place in Bulgaria. 

Further Reading

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