Bulgaria’s 2013 elections: When mudslinging sticks

One big issue ahead of Bulgaria’s May 12 2013 parliamentary elections is whether the eavesdropping controversy will have an impact on support for Boiko Borissov’s centre-right former ruling party GERB; another big issue – according to GERB – is the impact that the dirty fighting in the campaign will have on the image of Bulgaria.

Borissov’s party has been stung by the controversy about alleged illegal eavesdropping by the former government on state and political leaders and business people being put on the agenda of the European Parliament’s civil rights committee.

The decision to do was made on May 7, in a narrow vote. Part of the motivation was the allegation that those illegally eavesdropped on included Bulgaria’s European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, during trips to Bulgaria.

There has been no confirmation that Georgieva was unlawfully wiretapped, although at least one MP for the Bulgarian Socialist Party, GERB’s closest rival, stated this as fact on breakfast television on May 8.

The eavesdropping controversy has dominated the headlines and is raised in television debates by the socialists, although polling agencies are divided on whether the issue is resonating with the electorate.

GERB, which for weeks has insisted that cost-of-living issues matter to Bulgarian voters, not alleged eavesdropping, was indignant about putting the eavesdropping issue on the European agenda.

The fact of a discussion being planned at a meeting of the committee made headlines in Bulgaria, even though such discussion would happen no earlier than the end of May, two weeks after the election.

Bulgarian GERB MEP Andrei Kovachev described the behaviour of socialist and other counterparts as irresponsible, given that the investigation by the prosecution office of an EU member states was not yet completed. GERB’s rivals were spreading suspicions and rumours about the situation in Bulgaria, Kovachev said.

For the sake of their election campaigns, the BSP and GERB’s other rivals were prepared to scar Bulgaria’s image, he said.

Tsvetan Tsvetanov, campaign chief for GERB and the former interior minister at the centre of the controversy – prosecutors have said that they have sufficient evidence to initiate a prosecution for alleged illegal wiretapping but have not done so because Tsvetanov has immunity as a candidate MP – said that the discrediting campaign in the election meant that it would take years to stabilise Bulgaria’s institutions.

Tsvetanov, who on May 8 repeated his denial of wrongdoing and who has said that he would be prepared to give up his immunity after the election, said that the campaign by the socialists had been characterised by hatred and compromising materials. This was typical of a party that had no policy, platform and programme to offer, according to Tsvetanov.

The BSP was running its campaign in this way because it was running second to GERB, Tsvetanov said, citing a poll that put the former governing party at 24 to 28 per cent and the socialists at 16 to 17 per cent.

However, on May 7 one polling agency suggested that the eavesdropping controversy had hit GERB. Borissov’s party, according to the AFIS agency, had 31.6 per cent and the BSP 28.3 per cent, meaning that GERB had lost its previous 12-point lead and was only two points ahead of the socialists.

The AFIS poll became the first to suggest that there could be seven to eight parties in Parliament, although earlier polls by other agencies had suggested that the eavesdropping controversy and the mudslinging among major parties was prompting people to opt for lesser parties. According to AFIS, the party shedding support at the highest rate was GERB.

Whether AFIS’s assertions are backed up by polls by major polling agencies will have to await May 10, when a range of polls by serious agencies are expected.

Outside the campaign contest, senior state figures in Bulgaria have expressed concern about the way that the ahead-of-term election battle is being waged.

After, on April 28, Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev expressed frustration at the preoccupation with the eavesdropping controversy and urged politicians to debate issues relevant to the reasonable demands of people, on May 7 caretaker Prime Minister Marin Raykov said that Bulgarian voters would punish politicians who relied on scandals to win the votes of the people.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting that was scheduled to be the last before the election, Raykov said that Bulgarian voters could not won over by scandals. Naming no parties, he said that Bulgarians were mature enough in terms of democratic procedures and values, and knew that the political forces that had the potential to solve the country’s problems were those that had clear programmes with specific steps.

(Main photo, of a GERB campaign tent in Plovdiv: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.