Bulgaria elections 2016: The wrap of the week that was, October 16

Perhaps Bulgaria’s lawmakers, who have made amending the Electoral Code something of a hobby, should in future write their revisions to the law in pencil, and arrange state subsidies for erasers.

As the week ended on October 16, the focus of the presidential election campaign was much less on what may pass for the issues in that campaign than on the law by which it will be conducted.

It was a week that had seen the latest challenge in the Supreme Administrative Court to the Central Election Commission’s decision on “media packages”, as the CEC was accused of exceeding the remit conferred on it by statute; a week that saw concerns that the “I don’t support anyone” box on the ballot paper could, in the way they would be counted, render the elections invalid; and a week that saw the law by which the CEC had decided on polling stations abroad headed for a Constitutional Court challenge.

Parliament went into recess until the presidential elections, though that vote was short-lived as it was called back at the insistence of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, whose GERB party was trying to dig itself out of the damage caused by the Electoral Code controversies, in particular the “I don’t support anyone” contretemps.

On October 16, GERB deputy leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that the party would be putting to the National Assembly urgent changes to the Electoral Code, to resolve the problems both with voting abroad and with the “I don’t support anyone” option.

The same day, Ombudsman Maya Manolova said that she would be taking the law governing the number of polling stations abroad to the Constitutional Court.

So, as it turned out, several months after the Electoral Code was approved by Parliament, and with less than three weeks to go to the November 2016 presidential elections, everyone suddenly realised how flawed it is and would either be rushing a rewrite or tugging at the togas of the 12 judges of Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court.

Tsvetanov got the headlines, with his statement in Turgovishte – where he was on the campaign trail with GERB presidential candidate Tsetska Tsacheva statement – about the special sitting of the National Assembly. Few paid much heed to what had been meant to be the main event, Tsacheva’s speech.

For the record, Tsacheva said that Bulgaria had to remain stable in the name of the security of all Bulgarian citizens. GERB and the Borissov government were working for the development of the state for the sake of all Bulgarian citizens, “and for that reason we have the confidence to stand before you and ask for your support”.

In Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Bourgas, meanwhile, Bulgarian Socialist Party candidate Roumen Radev spent his Sunday promising “surprises” in the outcome of the presidential election (he might well have referred to one, a poll by a left-leaning agency suggesting that at a second-round contest against Tsacheva, Radev might win).

Radev went on to talk about pensions and the lack of prospects for Bulgaria’s youth, honouring once again – as all candidates tend to do – the tradition of presidential candidates talking about matters over which the President, as a largely ceremonial head of state, has no say.

Ivailo Kalfin, the candidate of BSP splinter party ABC, found Radev the most fascinating thing to talk about, spending his Sunday in Vratsa issuing, among other things, a challenge to Radev to debate.

Kalfin, who has decades in politics (among other things, as having been the BSP presidential candidate five years ago, running second) compared to Radev’s weeks, said that the presidential elections were “not for fortune-tellers and entertainers” nor a form of exercise after retirement, the latter an apparent sideswipe at Radev for quitting his post as Air Force commander to stand in the elections.

“The participation of fortune-tellers, entertainers and people with criminal convictions in the race for the highest government position is indicative of the attitude of the people to both the institutions and to politics. This must change and it must be one of the tasks facing the new head of state,” Kalfin said.

He said that Radev had said that there was a “wider horizon” among people who had been studying politics “behind the curtains of the National Assembly and on the sidelines.”

“I want to see this broad horizon of Mr. Radev in debate. Let us face each other on all important issues and see who has studied and what he had learned. Because the highest public office is no place either for exercise or for leisure after retirement. And it is high time we, the presidential candidates begin to show respect for the highest political office, to which we aspire”.

Reformist Bloc candidate Traicho Traikov, meanwhile, accused Borissov’s GERB of working closely with the BSP.

“A false impression is that the battle in this election is between GERB and BSP. We are the alternative. They work so well together and want us to accept that they are opponents,” he wrote on Facebook.

At a campaign trail rally in Stara Zagora, Traikov said that the post of President was not a political party one but a separate institution. The President should be the guarantee of national security but also the security of every citizen, he said.

Krassimir Karakachanov, the presidential candidate of a Patriotic Front-Ataka election coalition, continued to hammer his theme of illegal migration, while stating darkly that “manipulation” of the election was already being prepared, while Vesselin Mareshki, the pharmacy chain luminary, boasted of his success in the private sector which he said he had achieved with no political help and called for support as the “anti-system candidate that can break the political cartel”.

But as these and the rest of the 21 candidates stumped their way through towns and television studios, the real question that has emerged so far in these presidential elections is whether they are an overture to early parliamentary elections.

Certainly, Borissov, apparently upset at the behaviour of his coalition partners and made even more nervous by poll indications that his party may not necessarily be guaranteed a scintillating triumph in November’s presidential elections, has not held back from displaying his spleen, and dominated the headlines with threats to “reformat” the Cabinet or even precipitate elections.

Of course, much of this is showmanship, probably calculated to get out the GERB vote, especially in the face of the difficulty of Borissov’s party’s candidate being not among the most popular of GERB’s or the country’s politicians.

Weeks ago, Borissov said that if his GERB candidate did not win at the first round, he would resign and call elections – though the conditionality of Borissov’s phrasing leaves open interpretations of precisely what would have to emerge on the evening of November 6 to bring about such a drastic step.

At this writing, there are three weeks until the close of polls in what is likely to be only the first round of Bulgaria’s November 2016 presidential elections. A week, so Harold Wilson said, is a long time in politics. This has been a long one. The next three may be just as long, if not longer.





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.