As Bulgaria prepares to vote for president and parliament, new allegations of fraud and vote rigging emerge
With Bulgarians due to go to the polls on November 14, police confirmed they had launched investigations into possible electoral fraud after an RFE / RL investigation into the conduct of the country’s last elections in July.
The latest investigation by the Bulgarian RFE / RL service revealed what appeared to be widespread abuse of the mobile ballot on July 11 in two towns in the southern province of Pazardzhik, a stronghold of the centrist Movement for Rights and Freedoms ( DPS), which attracts the support of members of the Muslim, Roma and Turkish communities in Bulgaria. Mobile voting is when people vote at home because of a health problem or old age.
A previous RFE / RL investigation of the northeastern town of Razgrad found that the medical documents needed to qualify for mobile voting were either forged or filed on behalf of people who later said that ‘they had not submitted such a request.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said its observers found July 11 early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria for having been “in competition with generally respected fundamental freedoms”.
But some Bulgarian politicians are not convinced, comforted by the recent findings, and fear that there is still more fraud in the crucial elections of November 14.
As a member of NATO and the European Union, Bulgaria has been plagued by widespread corruption since it overthrew communism over thirty years ago. It is the poorest member of the EU and regularly comes to the bottom of the bloc for perceptions of corruption and media freedom.
Bulgarians will not only vote in the general elections on November 14, but also choose a president. This will be the third time this year that Bulgaria has held parliamentary elections after two previous votes in April and July failed to form a government.
Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who has headed the organization for more than a decade, resigned in April after numerous anti-corruption protests against him and his center-right GERB party, officially known as of Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria.
Corruption and cronyism linked to infrastructure projects, which appeared to benefit GERB friends and associates rather than average Bulgarians, not only sparked protests but reprimand from the European Anti-Fraud Office.
Double vote, double problem?
The country’s president, Rumen Radev, who is running for a second term and has chosen the date of the parliamentary poll, said bringing the two votes together would save time and money. However, given the new allegations of electoral fraud in the July parliamentary elections, some Bulgarian politicians fear that double voting could mean double trouble.
“There have been abuses before. These elections will give us two results in one day,” said Antoaneta Tsoneva, member of the Bulgarian National Assembly, the country’s parliament, and member of the centrist electoral alliance of the Democratic Bulgaria, which ranked fourth in the July Elections with 12.5% of the vote.
“This is an attempt to avoid voting machines and direct the way voters vote. We have proof that it has already been used,” Tsoneva told RFE / RL’s Bulgarian service, referring to the mobile voting, which critics say is susceptible to tampering due to its use of paper ballots.
The Interior Ministry confirmed to RFE / RL that an investigation into electoral fraud linked to the July 11 vote had been launched in Razgrad and other unspecified regions.
Nebi Bozov, mayor of Sarnitsa, one of two towns in Pazardzhik province where RFE / RL detected an unusual mobile ballot vote during the July 11 parliamentary vote, denied to RFE / RL that there had been any “irregularities”.
In Sarnitsa, 198 ballots were cast using mobile voting. This meant that election teams would go to the homes of people who had asked to vote in this way because health conditions prevented them from going to a polling station.
In Bulgaria, mobile voting is carried out using paper ballots, unlike at polling stations where votes are compiled electronically. These paper ballots, support the critics, make mobile voting open to ballot stuffing.
In Sarnitsa, a mobile polling station was used to collect these 198 votes on July 11, raising questions about how this was possible given that polling day lasted 1 p.m. from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and that collecting a vote usually takes at least 15 minutes.
When asked how such a large number of mobile votes were collected in a relatively short time, Mayor Bozov said he “has a good organization”.
Informed of Bozov’s remarks, MP Tsoneva retorted sarcastically: “This good organization will meet our decisive resistance.
Most of those 198 mobile votes – 173 – went to DPS, official registers indicate. This contrasts with the results of the polling stations in Sarnitsa, where the DPS won only 50% of the vote.
The DPS party, which ranked fifth overall in July with 10.6% of the vote, grabbed the headlines earlier this year when one of its members, media mogul and broker Delyan Peevski power in Bulgaria, was part of a trio of influential Bulgarians. and companies belonging to them which were slapped with economic sanctions by the United States for their “extended role” in corruption in Bulgaria.
Peevski is again seeking a seat for the party in the next parliamentary elections.
On November 8, the Democratic Alliance of Bulgaria called on police to investigate the results of mobile voting not only in Sarnitsa, but in Batak, another town in Pazardzhik province, said Tsoneva, who represents the province, to RFE / RL.
On October 31, Tsoneva facing Yordan Tsonev (no family link), the head of the DPS of the province of Pazardzhik, about the alleged rigging of votes in the streets of Velingrad, a city in the province, a meeting that she filmed and put on her Facebook page.
In comments to RFE / RL, Tsoneva said she told Tsonev her party would not be running for a repeat of the alleged vote rigging. Tsonev did not respond to RFE / RL’s requests for comment.
Bozov, the mayor of Sarnitsa, said a commission has been set up to verify all applications, including medical documents and certificates, needed to qualify for mobile voting. “We have done everything, but we are still not doctors,” Bozov told RFE / RL.
Apparent abuse of medical claims
The number of applications filed for mobile voting for the upcoming November 14 election was unclear.
One earlier Bulgarian RFE / RL service survey, published on October 29, revealed what appeared to be a large-scale abuse of the medical claims required to qualify for mobile voting in Razgrad.
Just before the parliamentary vote on July 11, more than 2,500 applications for mobile voting were filed due to illness. Police later said that an unknown number of these requests were made by people who later said they denied making them.
The results of mobile voting in the Razgrad region in the legislative elections on July 11 show that more than 90% of the votes cast went to the DPS. This compares to the 45% the DPS received in the Razgrad region by voting at the polling stations.
Verification of the medical documents accompanying any mobile voting request is the responsibility of the mayors of the jurisdictions where such requests are made. In Razgrad, five of the seven district mayors are members of the DPS.
RFE / RL released its report on voting irregularities in Razgrad three days after the Bulgarian Interior Ministry announced it was launching an investigation into possible electoral fraud in that country.