By Krassen Nikolov
“There is one big village near Pleven, which always shows me the tendencies in vote-buying”, a sociologist who wants to remain anonymous told this website. The village is Bukovlak. It is a few kilometers away from Pleven, one of the few big cities in North Bulgaria – the poorest region of the EU.
Bukovlak is the largest village in the area with almost 5,000 voters living there. The results of the European elections in the village are really impressive. Bukovlak had three polling stations. In the first one, the Turkish minority party DPS won 76% of the votes. The first two political forces in the country – GERB and BSP, had less than 10%. If you know nothing about making elections in Bulgaria the vote in the second station in Bukovlak may seem sensational. DPS won the incredible 632 votes out of a total of 636 valid ballots. In the third polling station this party had 470 ballots. The second force was Coalition for Bulgaria with 37 votes even though Rumen Petkov who is a key figure in the coalition is from Pleven.
DPS managed to win from this village 1,228 votes, which is 0.4% of their total election result in the country. Bukovlak voters did not use their right of preference voting. This is in sync with the DPS’s policy not to tolerate the preference voting.
Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin usually vote for DPS. And there are no such people in this village. But there is a large Roma community there.
If only the European elections results are analyzed one may assume that Bukovlak is a DPS fortress. The problem is that this is not the case. Only two years earlier in the parliamentary elections, the village was a GERB stronghold. Boyko Borissov’s party won the elections in Bukovlak with 1,077 votes against 534 for DPS. It is interesting where did all these voices go in 2019. In the European elections the party received exactly 28 votes in Bukovlak. In one of the three polling stations GERB did not get a single vote while two years earlier the same force got 417 votes in the same polling sation.
Five years earlier, for the parliamentary elections in 2014, the picture changes again. GERB got only 3 ballots in the station where they won 417 votes in 2017. DPS had 753. The result of the 2014 parliamentary elections in Bukovlak is 1,492 votes for DPS versus 104 for GERB.
Vote-buying may be flourishing in Bukovlak, but there is no criminal activity in the village. The village is famous for its mayor Rosen Rusanov. He is known among the locals as a fighter against crime. The mayor’s nickname is “the sheriff”. Every night, Rusanov walks the streets of Bukovlak and takes care of order. For the last years, the thefts in the village have fallen drastically, although previously the crime rate has been very high. Apparently, Rusanov also knows how to win elections because he was re-elected as an independent candidate with 1,700 votes. His only opponent had 100.
Such anomalies, though not in the same size, can be tracked in nearly 500 polling stations throughout the country. Mostly in the neighborhoods where Roma people live. In Bulgaria there are about half a million Roma people. The majority of them live in poverty and are uneducated. They are also the main target of vote dealers. Poor Bulgarians are also selling their votes, but they are not organized and are not as easy to handle for the parties.
Vote-buying is a common practice in elections in Bulgaria. The lower the turnout is, the higher the bought votes count. The latest reports of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, which monitor the election process, say that the country has not tackled its problems. Nevertheless, Bulgarian elections are considered relatively free.
Northwestern Bulgaria, which is the poorest EU region, is in the focus of the attention of observers in the European elections. The demographic crisis in this part of the country is brutal. The few people who had not left the region receive wages that are nearly three times lower than those in the capital Sofia. In this environment, the party of the Turkish minority, DPS, obviously increases its influence, especially in the Roma neighborhoods.
Observers familiar with the election technology say that bought and controlled votes in the European elections could be identified with preference for people in the bottom of the electoral lists. This was the “signature” allowing those who pay to ascertain that those who got the money have kept their promise.