By Krassen Nikolov
Can someone blame people for abstentionism, when politicians haven’t been able to win the citizens’ trust? The turnout of the European elections in Bulgaria was record low. Only 1/3 of the Bulgarians voted. That is 3% less than in the previous European elections. The turnout in Bulgaria was in stark contrast to that in Western Europe.
In early July, a Gallup International poll for the public television BNT tried to explain why most of the Bulgarians refused to vote. 37% of those interviewed answered that they were disappointed with political parties and politicians. People explain that they “don’t believe in anyone”, “there is no one to vote for” because “they are all the same”.
Another 15% see no reason to vote or doubt the fairness of the elections. Only 2% say the European elections are not important to them. One in five Bulgarians who did not vote says they had personal reasons for doing so. The others cannot explain why they did not vote. The results of the survey show that Bulgarians’ distrust of the political system is one of the main reasons for the low turnout.
Did politicians lie during this campaign? This is an overview.
Just before the start of the elections campaign the scandal with the apartments obtained by people in power at prices well below the market seriously affected the ruling party GERB. The corruption scandal led to numerous resignations. Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who was GERB parliamentary group chairman, resigned from the National Assembly. But he kept his position in the party as the main person in charge of the elections.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov knew how important during elections Tsvetanov is. Borissov did not want to split his party. He said that if GERB will win the elections, it would mean that people had forgiven Tsvetanov for the scandal. GERB won the election. The people in the party had apparently forgiven Tsvetanov, but he was nonetheless forced by Borissov to quit politics.
Two weeks before the vote, Borissov himself began touring the country and campaigning using public resources during his working hours. He focused on entirely internal topics – roads construction, hospitals, urban repairs, income. European issues were referred to by the GERB MEP candidates, but their voice was completely muffled by Borissov’s speaking.
The prime minister talked about European topics before the apartment scandal. In February, at an event organized by Konrad Adenauer Foundation, he announced that in July Bulgaria would receive an invitation to join ERM II. That did not happen. He promised that Bulgaria would end the year with over €60 billion of gross domestic product. This is also practically impossible. For this to happen, the nominal growth of the economy must exceed 12%. The nominal growth of the Bulgarian economy (real GDP growth plus inflation) is about 6%.
In the elections, GERB won six seats in the European Parliament. The party’s MEPs are part of the Group of the European People’s Party.
The main opposition party BSP also avoided debate on European topics. The Socialists tried to present the European elections as a vote of no confidence against the Borissov’s government. When BSP tried to combine internal political topics with European ones, the result was a big lie. During the election campaign, the leader of the BSP electoral list Elena Yoncheva said that the party would fight for the enforcement of equal minimum wages and pensions for all countries in the EU. This is completely impossible because of the huge differences in the standard of living between Western and Eastern Europe. The European debate is about introducing a common standard for the minimum wage, which is 60% of the average wage in the country.
BSP won five seats in the European Parliament. Its MEPs are part of the Socialists and Democrats group.
Most needеd for Bulgaria
The biggest lie during the election campaign was produced by the ethnic Turkish party DPS.
The millionaire and media mogul Delyan Peevski was second in the DPS election list after the party leader Mustafa Karadaya. Before the campaign had started, Karadaya was honest to announce that if elected, he would not take his seat in the European Parliament. Conversely, Peevski kept silent until the end. Three days after the elections, Peevski announced that he would not take his seat, just as he did in 2014, and will remain a member of the Bulgarian Parliament because he is “needed for his country”. Thus Peevski did the same as during the previous European elections.
Karadaya and Peevski’s decision was followed by a brutal legal fraud by the Central Election Commission (CEC). The elected DPS MEPs Karadaya and Peevski asked the CEC to cancel their registration for the elections – as if they did not participate in the vote. Otherwise their mandates would have to be terminated by the European Parliament. While waiting for the EP’s decision the two had to give up their seats in the National Assembly because it is impossible to hold the two positions at the same time. The Election Commission deleted their registration for the election. According to election experts this is absurd and illegal.
‘We defend Bulgaria’
The nationalist party VMRO relied on a relatively moderate campaign. Its slogan was “We defend Bulgaria”. Although the EU has no political attitude towards the family values and does not plan regulations in this area the party announced that it will support the traditional Christian family. The VMRO has also declared itself a defender of Europe of Nations, but at the same time for the rapid EU admission of Northern Macedonia. The common sense says that this is impossible. The nationalists in Western Europe who defend “Europe of the Nations” are strongly against the enlargement of the EU in the Western Balkans.
VMRO have two MEPs, who are part of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. One of them is the writer and actor Andrey Slabakov. He is known as a heavy smoker and dresses casually. Slabakov had promised that the European Parliament would not change his style. From the very first day he appeared at the Strasbourg session with a suit and a stylish haircut.
The leader who missed the course
The liberal center-right coalition “Democratic Bulgaria” is not known for grand populist thesis. The formation tried to follow the European themes, and yet its campaign began with a scandal. Its list’s leader Svetoslav Malinov (former MEP) gave up his position on the electoral list because he missed a decisive vote on the EU Mobility Package in the ЕP. That had affected Bulgarian transport companies since the European Parliament passed regulations that are against Bulgaria’s interests. Malinov gave up participation in the list after he was accused that he was lying and did not want to defend Bulgarian interests. He was replaced by Radan Kanev, who won a seat in the European Parliament.
The leader of the populist party ‘Volya’ Vesselin Mareshki is known as Marine Le Pen’s partner in Bulgaria in Bulgaria. He was the leader of his party’s electoral lists and campaigned under the motto “Together Against the Robbery.” Mareshki, who is indicted by the prosecution in several cases, pleads for the development of “clean business”. He is a businessman who owns chains of pharmacies and filling stations in Bulgaria. But he is accused of racketeering competitors in the of pharmacy business.
Even before the start of the election campaign, Mareshki placed a television advertisement promoting his business, but actually it was sending a political message. Mareshki was fined because of this video. Then the Volya leader tried to get dividends by lying to voters that the CEC was considering closing down his chains of pharmacies and filling stations during the campaign. His plan obviously was to look like a victim of political repression. The CEC has no such authority and no one has touched his business.
On election day, Mareshki lowered petrol and diesel prices in his filling stations.