A total of 7200 Bulgarians are candidates in the May 12 national parliamentary elections, and just 240 will make it into the National Assembly.
Who will become the members of the 42nd National Assembly will be determined by whoever turns out to vote from among the more than 6.9 million citizens eligible to vote in this country of 7.3 million.
As of April 12, the official campaigning period for the elections has begun, with 38 political parties and seven coalitions in the field. Of these, going by opinion polls, it is most realistic to expect that about five will make it into Parliament.
The large number of entrants has resulted in ballot papers that will be from 25cm to 1.5 metres long, depending on the electoral district.
The election campaign will cost about 21 million leva to ensure that Bulgarians can vote, with the caretaker cabinet at its most recent meeting having augmented the budget to enable voting abroad. No official figures have been finalised yet but it is estimated that there will be about 250 polling stations abroad, in a few dozen foreign countries.
Six non-governmental organisations have been registered at the Central Election Commission as observers, while the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is sending 27 electoral observers and there will be four from the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.
The money game
Coalitions and political parties have a statutory campaign spending limit of four million leva and a nomination committee can spend up to 200 000 leva. Contributions by an individual may not exceed 10 000 leva.
On paper, the party with the largest financial resources in terms of state subsidies for parties represented in Parliament is former ruling party GERB, which has 29 million leva but has pledged that it will not surpass the four million leva legal threshold.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party, which is standing in the May 12 national parliamentary elections under the Coalition for Bulgaria banner, had a nine million leva state subsidy but this largely has been absorbed by running costs and so the party will take out a bank loan, although in term the borrowed money will go partly to servicing a previous loan, the BSP’s Emil Kostadinov told local media.
Meglena Kouneva’s Bulgaria for Citizens borrowed a million leva towards the end of 2012, and it told reporters that there should be enough for its campaign.
Some media will benefit financially from political advertising and regulations allow public broadcasters to charge parties for participation in election broadcast events. Elections, of course, are also to some extent a moneyspinner from venues rented out by political parties, and even musicians hired as drawcards for campaign events.
Much less formally, there is also the practice of vote-buying, a repeated source of concern in previous elections in Bulgaria. In the 2009 parliamentary and 2011 presidential and municipal elections, a few Bulgarian-language media ran investigative reports, complete with concealed cameras, about the illicit trade in votes. Customarily, vote-buying is most prevalent in Bulgaria’s poorest communities.
Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television on April 12, Deputy Prosecutor-General Asya Petrova said that in the May 2013 elections, the price of a vote was seen as running to about 100 leva. Petrova said that unlike previous years, this time around the process had started early.
Prosecutors already had received 10 allegations of vote-buying. The methods and schemes involved were unchanged from previous elections and prosecutors believed that they could work more effectively against the problem in these elections because they would be able to use electronic surveillance.
In 2011, 58 cases of vote-buying reached court, and 64 people were convicted, most being fined and two being jailed.
The polling game
While opinion polls in Bulgaria are the subject of controversy and electoral rules have been changed in an attempt to guarantee their integrity, they come the closest to providing an indication about possible outcomes of the May 2013 election, however much caution should be exercised in venturing any predictions.
The three most recent polls, by three separate agencies, all show Boiko Borissov’s GERB party getting the largest share of votes and being largely unhampered by the nationwide protests or Borissov’s February announcement of his resignation. Two of the polls purport to show a slight shedding of support for the Bulgarian Socialist Party, while all three show the startling resuscitation from near-death of Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalists Ataka.
On April 12, polling agency Mediana said that its figures showed GERB currently getting 26.4 per cent support and the socialists 23.7 per cent, after a poll conducted among 1000 citizens between April 5 and 9. This was a narrowing of the gap of five to seven per cent between the two parties in last month’s poll.
Ataka had 6.2 per cent support and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms 5.8 percent. In March, Mediana’s poll showed the MRF at 7.9 per cent and Ataka at 4.3 per cent.
Kouneva’s party would get 4.5 per cent, according to Mediana.
Mediana’s Nikola Kolev said that GERB’s lead was so fragile that the party would be well-advised not to rely on it. “Practically, so far it seems there will be five parties in Parliament, with relative parity between the two major political forces. Woe to those who try to form a government in such a situation”.
On April 4, the National Centre for the Study of Public Opinion saw GERB getting 24.4 per cent and the socialists 17.5 per cent. A few days earlier, Alpha Research saw GERB at 21.9 per cent and the socialists at 17.4 per cent.
(Photo of the National Assembly in Sofia: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)