Turkey’s ambassador in Sofia Süleyman Gökçe was summoned to Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry on March 7 after Turkish cabinet minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu was reported to have made a public call to Bulgarian citizens in Turkey to vote for Lyutvi Mestan’s DOST party.
The summons, 19 days before Bulgaria holds early parliamentary elections, saw caretaker Deputy Foreign Minister Boiko Mirchev sharply raise the issue of Müezzinoğlu’s statements.
Mirchev told Gökçe that Müezzinoğlu’s statements broke Bulgarian law and Turkish requirements regarding the process of Bulgarian voting in Turkey.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry noted that Ankara had given permission for the opening of polling stations in Turkey for Bulgaria’s March 26 2017 elections, with a firm prohibition on electoral campaigning in Turkey.
As a member country of the European Union, which is based on rules, Bulgaria was strictly keeping to these conditions, the Foreign Ministry said.
The statements made by Müezzinoğlu in Istanbul to immigrants from Bulgaria on March 3 and 6 violated this requirement and raised a number of questions, the ministry said.
Promises of incentives for voting and open calls to support a particular political party were considered by Bulgaria to be direct interference in its domestic affairs, which “we consider totally unacceptable,” the statement said.
Mirchev asked Gökçe to inform his government of Bulgaria’s position and urged that no such violations be allowed.
This would allow both countries to concentrate on important bilateral issues, the ministry said.
The Council for Electronic Media, Bulgaria’s broadcast regulator that also has a role in the observance of election campaign rules, said that it was preparing a letter to the Foreign Ministry about a DOST election video featuring Gökçe.
CEM head Maria Stoyanova said that the council had taken the initiative to look into the matter in response to public reaction to the video.
Stoyanova said that the participation of official representatives of foreign countries in Bulgaria’s election campaign – even by a partner country – could not go without a response and the council was referring the matter to the Foreign Ministry and the executive branch.
In April 2016, Gökçe was a guest at the launch of Mestan’s DOST party.
A few months earlier, he was reported to have “largely confirmed” claims that Movement for Rights and Freedoms founder Ahmed Dogan and then-MRF MP Delyan Peevski were persona non grata in Turkey.
Mestan was the leader of the MRF before being ousted by Dogan from the leadership and all party posts after Mestan took the side of Turkey at the time of its dispute with Russia.
In December 2015, ambassador Gökçe was handed a note from the Foreign Ministry about his conduct, then-prime minister Boiko Borissov said in January 2016 in response to questions in Parliament.