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Wiretapping Scandal, Voter Disillusionment Ahead of Bulgaria's Elections

Bulgarian citizens will have to make some difficult choices as they go to the polls on May 12, 2013 to vote in the parliamentary election.

The election had originally been scheduled for July, but the date was changed after the Feb. 20 resignation of the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s government, following the nationwide protests against high electricity prices, low living standards and corruption scandals. On March 13, President Rosen Plevneliev appointed an interim cabinet, which will work until the election.

There are 240 seats in the Bulgarian Parliament, and a party would need 121 seats to form a majority. After a series of scandals and protests, the issue of the potential winner is a divisive subject for the Bulgarian society. The main political forces competing in the polls include [.pdf] the former ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB); the Socialist Party, which is currently the main opposition force; the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which represents the country’s Turkish minority; Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, led by the former PM Ivan Kostov; Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, led by the former European Commissioner (2007-2009) and former Foreign Minister (2002-2006) Meglena Kuneva; and the far-right party Ataka.

"Bulgarian Roulette," featuring logos of the parties running in the upcoming election. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Bulgarian Roulette, featuring logos of the parties running in the upcoming election. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Ivan Bakalov, editor-in-chief of E-vestnik.bg, a Bulgarian alternative online media outlet, comments [bg] in an editorial:

Who is going to win the election? For now, the answer is – nobody. A research by the sociology agency BBSS Gallup International (March 7-12) showed that GERB and the Bulgarian Socialist Party are almost equal on votes.

Elections 2013. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Elections 2013. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

A reader named Georgieva expresses her mood in this comment [bg]:

For the first time I feel a complete disgust with all kinds of political parties. I don’t want any familiar face, neither from the left nor from the right, from none of the points of the political spectrum. [...]

Similar comments can be found on Facebook. User Radosveta Dimova, for example, writes [bg]:

[...] People who hope for a savior to come and are not self-reliant, people who want someone else to “fix” them, they are not right-wing, left-wing or centrist. They do not know what they want, they do not want to learn how to achieve it and they do not want to work as they should and to vote for whoever they should. These people are not interested in democratic values, they do not recognize them, and they haven’t lived in a society with that kind of values. [...]

A number of political scandals taking place alongside the election campaign have complicated the Bulgarian electorate’s moods even further.

At the end of April, the Bulgarian media received an anonymous report, written in shorthand, of a meeting between the ex-PM Boyko Borisov, the former Minister of Agriculture and Food Miroslav Naydenov and the Sofia City Prosecutor Nikolay Kokinov. The letter, sent from boykonaydenov@gmail.ru, began this way:

If you think the former Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov has stopped spying on you after February 20, 2013, you are wrong. But I’m nearly certain you know it. Because I am one of those spying on you. I am an employee of SDOTO (Specialized Direction “Operative Technical Operations); I still work there, and do what chiefs order me to do. With this email I am informing you about the last case of illegal spying in which I was involved. [...]

The sender elaborated on the focus of the wiretapped conversation:

[...] At the beginning of April, my colleagues and I eavesdropped on a discussion between Borisov, former Agriculture Minister Naydenov, and Sofia City Prosecutor Kokinov, on how to drop corruption charges against Naydenov and a number of other things important for the country. We were told we were on a “training mission” on Tsvetanov's order, despite the fact Petya Parvanova was already caretaker Interior Minister. Why did we agree to become involved? There is one word to explain it – FEAR!

After all these things at the office to which I am dedicated, honestly, I am sick and tired. I consulted attorneys and they told me what the law says about this conversation we taped – those being recorded and those recording have committed a crime. It is clear about us – we have snooped illegally regardless of the person – be it the former PM or a waiter from the pub next door. But from what the attorneys told me, I think what is more important is the crimes committed by Borisov, Naydenov, and Kokinov, while chatting. All three are accomplices in crime, according to the Penal Code, as they have plotted to spoil criminal proceedings in order to help someone avoid prosecution and punishment. This calls for 1 to 6 years behind bars. I am still somewhat confused though about another crime – leaking State secrets. Was it committed only by Kokinov, or all three are guilty of it? This is punishable by 2 to 8 years of jail time. [...]

The disclosure happened a day after the former Interior Minister swore he had not conducted phone tapping. As a result of the scandal, City Prosecutor Kokinov resigned, and, a few days later, criminal proceedings started against four high-ranking officials in the Bulgarian Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, a recent poll conducted by sociologist Mira Radeva states [bg] that the former ruling party might win most of the votes. The alternative publication Offnews.bg accused [bg] Radeva of pro-government bias.

E-vestnik.bg's Ivan Bakalov makes these forecasts [bg] in another editorial:

[...] It seems that Borisov’s party is beginning to fall into isolation. What is the alternative? Many people don’t want to vote for this party, but they don’t find a relevant alternative. What are the opportunities?

[...]

What are the arguments against the Socialist Party? [They] promise to build the Nuclear Power Plant in Belene, which is a risky investment for a state in a difficult financial situation. And it is a risk from the ecological point of view as well. [...]

Bakalov points out that the Socialist Party has also “promised to lift the smoking ban in Bulgaria” – which, according to him, is “populism.” As for Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, Bakalov writes:

[...] This is another party that has a chance to enter the next Parliament (in addition to the Socialist Party, the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and “Ataka”). This is the party most attacked by the media controlled by GERB. [...]

Bulgaria's ex-PM Boyko Borisov sitting on top of a citizen, luring him to vote. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Bulgaria's ex-PM Boyko Borisov sitting on top of a citizen, luring him to vote. Image by Vladimir Doychinov, used with permission.

Bulgarian journalist Ivo Indzhev writes [bg] on his blog, in a post that has been re-published in a number of alternative media outlets:

[...] One of our leading national specifics is obviously that here the bell is really ringing twice for the deaf people in order for them to open their eyes. This is an explanation of the marked tendency of GERB to be the winners in the polls, although, according to the logic of democracy, they should lose catastrophically [...].

[...]

Borisov understands what attracts people to him, and he tells them: “The more wiretapping devices are used, the stronger we become.” In translation, he is appealing to everyone who does not care about the democratic procedures to unite under his direction as the “proletariat” against the democracy. When someone is so candid, how can one not believe in the conspiracy statements that GERB had organized the wiretapping scandal themselves? [...]

Reader PETQ left this comment [bg] for Indzhev:

Mr. Indzhev, the closer the election is, the more GERB supporters mobilize. It’s visible even in your blog. Recently, the first comments under almost all of your articles are written by people who support GERB. I’m sure these are not your usual readers and there are thousands of more suitable sites for Borisov's fans to write at. However, obviously a lot money is paid in order for the public opinion to be manipulated on the Internet. And they obviously expect that the people who read your blog will say: “Well, even here people have changed their minds and it seems most of them are going to vote for GERB.”

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