Bulgaria’s 2023 municipal elections: Series of operations against vote-buying

The official campaign period ahead of Bulgaria’s October 2023 municipal and mayoral elections has seen a series of police operations against vote-buying in various parts of the country, with a number of arrests.

Among the latest is an operation in Rousse municipality, prompted in part by reports of people who are unemployed paying for shopping with 100 leva (about 50 euro) banknotes.

Senior Commissioner Plamen Purvanov, head of the regional directorate of the Interior Ministry in Rousse, told Bulgarian National Television on October 25 that the operation had started the previous day, following 17 reports of violations of election law.

“In one populated place, it is striking that people with a low social status and financial hardship are starting to shop en masse with 100 leva banknotes, which immediately drew attention and we are conducting a more thorough investigation,” Purvanov said.

“All 20 people are unemployed and have no income,” he said. Police intended to find out where the money came from.

On October 24, police checked 120 people and arrested one in a large-scale operation in Veliko Turnovo.

Three were taken in for questioning and issued formal warnings, police said.

Thirty addresses were checked in connection with alleged “electoral tourism”, which involves address changes to bolster the prospects of a party or candidate.

In the Sliven district, there was a special operation on October 23 against vote-buying, in which there were checks of pawn shops, fast loan houses and other businesses in Sliven and Tvarditsa.

In connection with suspicions of a controlled vote, notebooks with names and sums of money against them for purchases of goods were seized from three shops in Tvarditsa and one in Sliven.

Also on October 23, there was a police operation following alleged vote-buying in the village of Kalitinovo in Stara Zagora, while on the same day, 17 people were arrested and nine pre-trial proceedings begun during a police operation in Bourgas and the municipalities of Rouen and Sungulare.

Security Police Commissioner Marin Dimitrov said on October 23 that unlike previous years, the public was much more active in reporting vote-buying “and this leads me to think that they themselves show intolerance to this type of crime”.

October 23 also saw an operation against vote-buying in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia’s Filipovtsi quarter, while 10 days earlier, in an operation in Sofia, a 53-year-old man was arrested for vote-buying.

In the October 10 operation, police seized lists of people with the sums of money they had received, a large amount of cash, an illegal firearm with an erased serial number, ammunition and an air pistol.

On October 6, Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov said that by that stage, the ministry had received 147 reports of violations of election law, including 82 regarding vote-buying, and others including employees being told to vote for their employer’s candidate of choice.

As to “electoral tourism”, on October 19 Regional Development and Public Works Minister Andrei Tsekov submitted a report to Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov about addresses in Bulgaria where six or more people were on the voters rolls for the municipal elections.

According to Tsekov’s report, there are 72 619 addresses in Bulgaria where six or more voters are registered, and 1697 where 20 or more voters are registered.

The report said that there is a house in Razlog with 142 voters, and 138 voters at an address in a street in Gorna Oryahovitsa which is a plot of land with no building on it. There is a house in Plovdiv that has 194 voters registered as living in it, an apartment in Sofia with 83 voters and a house in Stamboliiski with – supposedly – 652 voters living in it.

Bulgarian law empowers district governors and mayors to check the accuracy of civil registrations.

In the election campaign period, there have been a number of reports in Bulgarian media about “electoral tourism” and regular announcements by police about arrests and operations in connection with vote-buying. In no case has a party or candidate seeking to benefit from these breaches of election law been publicly named.

(Archive photo: Interior Ministry press centre)

Bulgaria’s 2023 municipal elections: The Sofia Globe’s factfile

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