Bulgarian political parties and coalitions were closing off their campaigns in the final days and hours ahead of the 24-hour ban on campaigning before the municipal and mayoral elections and national referendum on October 25 2015.
In most cities and towns in the country, campaigning has been largely low-key. The outcome to be expected on Sunday remains a matter of speculation, more so before with less than a day before the “day of contemplation” on October 24, during which no canvassing is allowed and no opinion polls results may be published, no polling agency of significance had released survey results.
Apart from choosing the mayors and councillors in municipalities countrywide, the local elections also will serve as a semi-formal referendum on the performance of the government formed in November 2014, with Boiko Borissov’s GERB as majority partner and the Reformist Bloc as minority partner, with socialist breakaway ABC and the nationalist Patriotic Front also involved in the deal.
GERB appeared confident of retaining the mayoralties of Sofia and Bulgaria’s other large cities and perhaps even expanding its reach in other municipalities. But while cities such as Sofia and Bourgas were seen as likely GERB wins, there were keen contests in other cities such as Plovdiv. GERB election campaign chief Tsvetan Tsvetanov was scheduled to spend almost the entire day in Plovdiv on October 23, with a campaign-closing event at the Ancient Theatre in the evening. In Bulgaria’s second city, GERB’s candidate, incumbent mayor Ivan Totev, was facing a large number of challengers, on the right and left of the political spectrum.
For the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the second-largest (by far) party in the National Assembly, the outcome of the October 25 mayoral and municipal elections could have serious implications, especially for Mihail Mikov, elected party leader in 2014 after long-time BSP leader Sergei Stanishev stepped down from the post following the party’s latest election reverse. In no major city was the BSP seen as having a serious chance. Its electoral support base tends to be among voters over 60, outside urban areas.
Seventy-one parties and coalitions have been competing in the elections, which are scheduled ones. In recent years, amid sundry episodes of high political drama, Bulgaria regularly has seen elections – after the presidential and municipal elections in 2011, there were early parliamentary elections in 2013, European Parliament elections and early parliamentary elections in 2014, and the country will vote in presidential elections in 2016.
In mid-October, Alpha Research – arguably the most reliable of Bulgaria’s polling agencies – said that 58 per cent of Bulgarians intended voting in the municipal elections.
For the October 25 elections, eight polling agencies have registered with the Central Election Commission to conduct exit polls. Voting stations will be open from 6am to 7pm. By law, the results of exit polls may not be released until after the official end of voting at all polling stations.
In all, about 6.3 million Bulgarians, of a total population of about 7.1 million, will be eligible to vote in the mayoral and municipal elections on October 25, going by official figures.
In all, a total of 42 702 people are standing for election in Bulgaria’s cities, towns and villages on October 25.
There are 1605 candidate municipal mayors, 10 072 district mayor candidates and 696 borough mayor candidates. Candidate municipal councillors add up to 35 771.
Of the candidate mayors, a total of 267 have been identified by the Dossier Commission as having worked for State Security, the country’s communist-era secret service.
There will be about 12 000 polling stations across the country, the largest single number in Sofia – the capital and largest city in Bulgaria – where there will be 1558 polling stations.
The process of distribution of ballot papers has been underway for some days. According to the Central Election Commission, no shortage of ballot papers is expected. The CEC issued an assurance that steps had been taken to assure the security of ballot papers.
CEC officials told reporters on October 22 that complaints of abuses ahead of the elections had been received by the commission.
As has been a continuing theme in Bulgarian elections, there have been allegations of vote-buying, and there have been television investigative hidden-camera exposes of the practice in recent weeks.
The Interior Ministry opened a 24-hour hotline and made public an e-mail address, [email protected], on October 15 to receive allegations of abuses and crimes in connection with the electoral process.
On October 22, the ministry said that since the hotline had been opened, a total of 60 calls had been received about alleged breaches of the rules, of which 36 were “relevant to the work of the ministry”. The others had been referred to other institutions, the Interior Ministry said. In the 24 hours to October 22, a total of 12 calls had been received.
The CEC said that at the request of Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov, the commission had lifted the immunity from prosecution of three candidates, in Samokov, Pleven and the village of Uzundzhovo. A day earlier, the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Haskovo issued a statement alleging that mayoral candidate Deyan Vanchev had been offering sums of 30 to 40 leva (about 15 to 20 euro) to people to vote for him.
Media reports on October 22 said that Tsatsarov had submitted a request for the withdrawal of the immunity of Ivan Ivanov, a municipal council candidate in the municipality of Brezovo, in connection with a raid on Ivanov’s house during which quanities of cannabis were found.
In some cases, the outcome of the elections on Sunday seem reasonably certain. According to the CEC, in 415 places where elections are being held, there is only one candidate mayor.
By law in Bulgaria, where a mayoral candidate fails to win more than 50 per cent of the vote at the first round, a second round must be held. In cases where this is necessary in the 2015 elections, the second-round vote will be on November 1.