International observers evaluate election process at 11 July snap vote in Bulgaria

Photo: BGNES

The 11 July early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria were competitive, and fundamental freedoms were generally respected, Artur Gerasimov, Special Co-ordinator and head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) short-term observation mission to Sofia, told a press conference Monday.

Gerasimov noted that the middle part of the election campaign was dominated by mutual accusations of corruption by the former ruling party and the caretaker government, and there was action taken by law enforcement to prevent vote buying.

The elections were held in an adequate legal framework that was established shortly prior, which led to tensions during the preparations, the observers noted. According to them, the technical aspects have been managed efficiently, despite the short deadlines, the pandemic and the late adoption of some procedural actions.

Transparency and accountability of campaign financing have been reduced due to a supervisory deficit, Gerasimov added. The media offered limited coverage, which affected voters' ability to make their choices, he said.

In general, the process was transparent, the relevant procedures were followed, machine voting was applied in a generally efficient way with a few issues, Gerasimov summed up.

Regarding the media landscape, Gerasimov commented that the high concentration of media ownership had had a negative effect on policies and media pluralism, and the lack of detailed journalistic coverage of the campaign prevented voters from making adequate choices.

According to Alfred Heer of the PACE observation delegation, the voting in the polling stations was technically well organised and the voting process was transparent. “The machines worked very well in the locations we visited,” he noted.

Elona Hoxha, head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation of observers, said it was unfortunate that previous recommendations from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Venice Commission on national minorities remained unaddressed. Campaigns have been limited to the official language, reducing the level of political participation of minorities in the election process, she said.

According to her, women remain underrepresented in elected positions, while being well represented at all levels in the election administration. She recommended that this strong representation of women in the election administration be reflected in the future in all areas of public and political life.

Tana de Zulueta, head of the observation mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, commented that although there had been major changes in the legislation and organisation of these elections, such as the transition to machine voting, the media environment remained unchanged. The problems related to the pluralism and independence of journalists remain, she said.

Vote buying had received unprecedented attention from the government, she added. In the future, the goal will be to eradicate the problem, but this requires political effort, cooperation between the police and the judiciary, and there will have to be a change in the mindset of all citizens, said Tana de Zulueta.

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