Row as campaigning ahead of Bulgaria’s local elections comes to a close

The final day of campaigning ahead of the first round of Bulgaria’s 2023 mayoral and municipal elections was dominated by a national political row arising from a bid to eliminate machine voting from the October 29 vote.

The row arose after a report by the State Agency for National Security (SANS), forwarded to state institutions including Parliament and the head of state, was said to have alleged that deputy minister for e-government Mihail Stoinov had filmed the process of code generation with his phone.

This led to various calls from the populist ITN party – Parliament’s smallest, Boiko Borissov’s GERB, the mainly ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms, pro-Kremlin minority party Vuzrazhdane and the Bulgarian Socialist Party.

These calls included demands for Stoinov’s arrest, for his and E-government Minister Alexander Yolovski’s resignations, for the withdrawal of voting machines from Sunday’s elections – and if not, for the postponement of the elections, for the government’s resignation, among other things. The MRF alleged that We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria, from whose ranks Stoinov comes, was trying to “steal” the elections.

The episode led to an emergency meeting of presiding officers and parliamentary group representatives in the National Assembly, called by Speaker of Parliament Rossen Zhelyazkov of GERB.

Yolovski told a hastily-summoned news conference that the security of voting in the October 29 municipal elections was guaranteed.

“The voting machines work like printers: they will print out a receipt which shows every vote,” Yolovski said.

In line with the current Electoral Code, the machines are in effective printers – immediately after voting, the voter receives a receipt showing who he or she voted for.

Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, speaking from Brussels where he had been attending a meeting of the European Council, said that there was no danger of machine voting being manipulated.

“The facts are that right now the machines work like printers. Anyone voting can look at what came out as a ballot, even though it came out of a machine, then put it in the ballot box. It’s those ballots that count,” Denkov said. I

“The whole situation is being used to question machine voting,” he said.

“Obviously, the opposition is very keen to use the situation as a new opportunity to try to topple the government. GERB and MRF have been wanting to remove the machines for a long time, so maybe for them this is a convenient way to make it happen.”

Denkov said that the decision on whether there will be a machine vote on Sunday will be entirely up to the Central Election Commission. Current election law says that voters should have a choice between using a machine or a paper ballot.

Atanas Atanassov, co-leader of the WCC-DB parliamentary group, told a news conference: “GERB lost the elections in Sofia and in other large Bulgarian municipalities and together with MRF invented this fake news with the manipulations of the voting machines.

“Everything starts from some mythical report by SANS, which was signed by the deputy chairman of SANS. In a more relaxed situation after the elections, we will have to find out through parliamentary hearing what this report contains, and why it was signed by the deputy chairman,” Atanassov said.

“I also want to say to the voters – do not worry about this Kostinbrod affair, because only the high voter turnout will determine who will rule,” he said.

The “Kostinbrod affair” was an episode in 2013 on the eve of parliamentary elections in which false claims were made about GERB having possession of additional, undisclosed ballot papers. A subsequent investigation showed the allegation to be unfounded, but the incident had already damaged GERB at the polls.

“I expected pre-election circuses, but this exceeded all my expectations,” WCC-DB co-leader Kiril Petkov said.

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

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