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The Ultimate Guide to Vote Buying in Bulgarian Elections: 5 Easy Steps

Prerequisites: Favorable Vote Buying Situation

A few preconditions generally need to be in place for vote buying to work well. You need a society, preferably one that has recently emerged from a democratic transition, and where democracy still hasn’t taken strong enough roots. Also, you need a great disillusionment and deep disappointment with the promised benefits of the democratic system of government leading to far-reaching cynicism about elections, parties, and democracy among the general population.

A good deal of marginalized groups – impoverished people, ethnic and religious minorities, rural population, uneducated layers of society – would also come in handy. This bouquet should also be spiced up with a weak civil society, and, last but not least – a whole bunch of nice political parties and businessmen connected with them, who enjoy shopping… for votes.

(Oftentimes those would be able to kill two birds with one stone – launder money by paying for votes – so this would make the whole exercise even more exciting.) Finally, don’t forget: the lower the voter turnout, the better.

Step 1. You need a political party and some cash (at least pretend to have them)

Three journalists from the 24 Chasa (“24 Hours”) Daily, one of the major newspapers in Bulgaria, recently decided to go undercover and demonstrate that vote buying is well under way several days before the elections despite the much publicized campaign against it.

The three of them rented a nice Mercedes, and pretended to be a candidate and his political activists from the KPGP “Zname” (“Flag”) political party; they prepared some campaign materials and badges. The Bulgarian abbreviation for KPGP came from the expression “Buying and Selling of Votes Is a Crime”, which is the official motto of the fight against vote-buying repeated over and over in the campaign messages of the Bulgarian political parties.

The journalists also picked “24” as the number of the ballot for their party in the coming Bulgarian Parliamentary elections on July 5, the trick here being that only 20 parties are registered to run in the elections.

Step 2. Get in contact with the likely vote vendors and traders

The three undercover journalists wanted to make a point rather than explore all the aspects of vote buying in Bulgaria. So led by the undercover majority candidate Mariyan Popov (journalist Milen Petrov), the three headed for the Stolipinovo Quarter in the southern city of Plovdiv – a Roma quarter of 40 000 people.

“It is elementary, very simple. The whole thing took three hours. Once you go to the spot you need to get in touch with the respective leader (trader), and it is really easy to find him”, journalist Milen Petrov told Novinite.com.

Basically, the three KPGP party activists got off the car somewhere in Stolipinovo, and asked the locals, “Who is the boss around here?” making it clear that they are from the KPGP party registered under No. 24.

The “boss” arrived pretty shortly – a stereotypically looking business for this kind of neighborhoods – black trousers, golden chain and rings, moustache, according to the published description. The two sides figured out within a matter of seconds what the each party wanted.

“The system works in the following way: a political party sends its people to the respective quarters, and they figure who is the person (or people) there who would get the job done”, Petrov explains. After that – let the negotiations begin.

Step 3. Striking a vote buying deal

The undercover journalists and the local boss headed to his “office” – a back room in a local groceries store – in order to hammer out the details for the deal. After short haggling, they got 500 votes for their candidate, “Mariyan Popov”, for the price of BGN 30 per vote; plus an additional fee for the trader – the local “boss”.

According to Milen Petrov, how much the trader would get depends on their level in the whole vote buying chain, and the number of votes they could provide. Our guess is – at least a few thousand BGN.

“They did not care what party we are from at all, they didn’t even ask. The trader did not figure out it was a fake party. The people didn’t ask us what it stood for – it could well have been a neo-Nazi party preparing a Roma Holocaust – they didn’t care”, Petrov told Novinite.com.

The other main thing here is that the client should never be worried that they won’t get the votes they paid for. Once the deal is made, the boss, who is responsible for his people, would send envoys to them the night before the elections in order to explain which ballot paper they are supposed to cast.

The bosses could control a whole polling station. They would work with a list of the voters in each station, and they would have people among the “observers” or “advocates” that are part of the station’s electoral commission. The buyer would pay half of the price in advance, and the other half – after the results are clear. The bosses would have helpers – people who are responsible for 50, 20, or as few as 10 people.

So however illegal or immoral vote buying could be in Bulgaria, it actually seems to be a very honest business – the clients gets what they paid for. In our case, the 24 Chasa journalists managed to buy 500 votes in less than three hours, and got a promise for potentially 500 more votes depending on the deals with other political parties that were already well under way.

Step 4. Sit back and Enjoy (Parliament, Cabinet, EU Funds…)

Basically, there you have it. 500 votes here, 1 000 votes there and bammmm… Say you are a minor party with some backing by some businessmen or whoever. Ideally, you could get some 10-20 MPs, have a Parliamentary Group of your own; maybe join the governing coalition, if you are lucky.

Thus, you get to participate in crafting legislation, have appointments in the executive, have a say in the distribution of the public funds, including the money of the good people of the EU.

If you are a major political party, which usually has a lot of voters of its own (still voting for their convictions, those people just crack us up, don’t they…), then the “bought” votes could aid you get a parliamentary majority and help you form a government – with lots of cash (actually, not even that much cash), the right math, and a bit of luck.

Step 5 (Optional): Don’t Wonder Why

The readers of Novinite.com probably still wonder why eligible voters would want to sell their right to choose who governs them. Why would they trade their greatest power, the right for which millions of people have died in the past, and continue dying for it around the globe?

Journalist Milen Petrov paints a very bleak picture of the conditions under which the people in the Stolipinovo Quarter live. Their poverty is absolutely striking so it is perhaps understandable that they would try to make BGN 30, and that they would have no idea about democracy, parties, elections…

In another destitute Roma Quarter in Plovdiv, Sheker Mahala, Petrov’s team managed to get 100 votes for BGN 10 per vote, promised by a local guy that did not look anything like the previous “boss”. The KPGP party activists even managed to get the locals excited about their non-existing party with the sheer promise of a few BGN…

Petrov says that the Roma Quarters are the most visible examples of vote-buying but he thinks that this phenomenon is hardly limited to them only. He claims that those people have lost any hope that their situation might improve through elections and government actions. But this seems to be a Catch 22 situation since vote buying is only likely to perpetuate it.

“There are two types of people who sell their votes. These can be socially excluded people, who are not motivated to do anything, who are poor or from a minority group. The others are those who have a good job, incomes and education, but are so cynical about Bulgaria’s political life that they are more than ready to sell their vote”, Teodor Dechev, Deputy Chair of the Union for Private Economic Enterprise, told Novinite.com in an interview.

The UPEE recently announced awards of up to BGN 10 000 for any information and evidence about vote buying in Bulgaria. The rationale of its businessmen who donated money for the awards was that it would be better to spend a few thousand BGN in order to try to spoil all the vote buying fun than risk having billions of EUR from the EU funds being embezzled by persons who have been elected through such unfair practices.

During Bulgaria’s European Parliament Elections on June 7, the UPEE received more than 200 signals about vote buying. Yet, people were very scared and would speak only on the condition of anonymity. Even though the UPEE handed out a couple of BGN 4 000 prizes, Dechev believes they would hardly get the chance to award the big prize of BGN 10 000 because of the large publicity it would involve.

He believes that the cure for Bulgaria’s vote buying disease is very simple – high voter turnout. “Estimates show that the controlled votes accounted for about 15% of all votes cast in the European Parliamentary Elections. The damage that buying votes does will be cushioned quickly should election turnout increase by at least 20%,” he told Novinite.com.

Dechev points to the recent introduction of elements of a majority electoral system as a Bulgarian example of unfair gerrymandering which also stimulates the using of the controlled vote.

Dechev is positive that “vote buying and selling is a crime, but when a party undermines the democratic foundations of the country, this is called treason. This happens at a time, when Bulgaria has gained the infamous popularity of the most corrupt country in Europe and there is talk of triggering a safeguard clause.”

One should not forget that vote-buying is just one aspect of the so called “controlled vote”. There is also the so called “corporate vote” even though this term probably doesn’t sound right in English because in Bulgaria it means that a large-scale employer forces their workers in one way or another to vote for a certain party.

To sum it all up, vote buying in Bulgaria is easy. The cool thing is that the Bulgarian police and the whole bunch of other institutions could have done what Milen Petrov and his 24 Chasa team did, and bust a number of vote traders. And vote buyers for that matter.

After all, the only precautions that the vote trader in Milen Petrov’s case took was saying, “This is forbidden in principle now”, and taking the undercover journalists to his secret “office” to strike the deal.

The truth is the police and prosecution don’t even need to do that – at the local level, the local police pretty much must know who sells what and for how much – no one can convince me of the opposite.

So there seems to be a lot that is rotten in the state of Bulgaria. Except – instead of “To vote or not to vote?”, the Hamlet question in our case sounds more like, “To sell my vote or not to sell it?” A lot of people in Bulgaria don’t even ask the question, they just do it.

As excited as you might have gotten by this article about vote buying in Bulgaria, please do not try this in your home country.

novinite.com

Vote Buying in Bulgaria or Shop till You Drop

Novinite – Interview with Teodor Dechev, Deputy Chairman of the Union for Private Economic Enterprise (UPEE). The UPEE, a Bulgarian business organization recently announced an award of up to BGN 10 000 for any information and evidence for vote buying in Bulgaria.

Q: When does vote buying date back to in Bulgaria? What are the new developments in this year’s elections?

Vote buying is part of the political life of all countries with democratic election procedures. Yet there is one crucial difference. In most countries, which are stable democracies, as well as in Bulgaria during the first years after the collapse of the communist regime, the target of these activities were the so-called marginal groups, mainly poor and socially excluded people. These are people, who consider their vote to have no worth. For them, the money they receive is more important than the choice they can make by casting a ballot as their conscience tells them.

The unscrupulous and rampant vote buying in Bulgaria started prior to the local elections in 2005. The scale of the vote buying depends on how important the vote is, that is the more majority-leaning an electoral system is, the more unbridled the vote shopping becomes. Up to 2005 vote buying in Bulgaria was resorted to in a bid to round up election results. The impact of this practice was almost negligible given the high election turnout of more than 50%. The local elections in 2005 were a totally different story. Mayors of towns, villages and municipalities are elected according to a majority electoral system, where every single vote is extremely important. That was the fist time that politicians started to pay huge sums.

Vote buying is part of the election corruption, which has many expressions, including the splurging of lots of money for media coverage. The time came, however, when the people who forked out the money decided to start investing in something with much more tangible and quick results, namely the direct buying of votes. The main target groups were socially excluded people, the Roma minority, disadvantaged people. Ever since the elections in 2003 and 2007 and the establishment of the so called regional business parties, there flourished a whole array of undemocratic and illegal practices.

New factors came into the equation prior to this summer’s elections and raised a number of concerns. There are many indications and tip-offs of vote buying on an epidemic scale. Vote buying in many cases is an example of money laundry. This is a way to avoid the need for issuing documents involved in all other money transfers, for example when you pay for an advertisement in a newspaper. The money that is too dirty to get rid of¬†through money laundry is transmuted into political clout.

I am absolutely sure that a whopping amount of money has been spent for buying votes this year. I can’t cite any figures, this is something that my colleagues from Transparency International will do.

Q: Has the trade in votes in Bulgaria turned into a well structured business practice?

We can easily calculate the amount of the investment made by multiplying the number of the controlled votes per BGN 100, the average price paid per vote. The final recipient receives no more than BGN 30. This is a very well structured system with a number of units, including brokers, dealers, etc.

The new thing this year, which is particularly unnerving is, that there are a number of brokers who shop votes for more than one party. They don’t care about party colors, they care only about the money that they will get. To top it all off, the dealers are very often people with criminal records.

We have also signals about mayors, who have been elected on the ticket of one party, but shop votes for another party. This practice is not only illegal, but also totally immoral.

I can cite a concrete example in the municipality of Brusartsi, Northwestern Bulgaria. We have notified the Bulgarian State Agency for National Security (DANS), the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor’s office. It is still to be seen what the final result will be.

There are Bulgarian parties, which claim that they don’t buy votes, they are just “convincing” the people employed by the person behind the party. This can hardly be the case since Bulgarians are people who don’t particularly like their employers. It is highly probable that there is more to it than mere talk – pressure and threats that the employed may lose their jobs.

Q: How are these practices spread throughout the country?

A: I would like to cite Miroslav Sevlievski (member of Novoto vreme party, who runs with Lider party, backed by the controversial tycoon Hristo Kovachki), who commented that the votes the party received in the European Parliament elections were “equally distributed”. Our surveys show that the electoral corruption practices are equally distributed throughout the country. There are no regions immune to controlling or buying votes.

Q: What is the antidote?

A: The cure for this disease is very simple – high turnout. Estimates show that the controlled votes accounted for about 15% of all votes cast in the European Parliamentary elections. The damage that buying votes does will be cushioned quickly should election turnout increase by at least 20%. The situation is made worse by the majority electoral system, which was approved by the lawmakers this year. There is one word to describe the impact that this system has – gerrymandering, a form of redistribution in which electoral district or constituency boundaries are deliberately modified for electoral advantage. The big cities are very much undervalued, while the smaller villages and towns are very much overvalued.

Vote buying and selling is a crime, but when a party undermines the democratic foundations of the country, this is called treason. This happens at a time, when Bulgaria has gained the infamous popularity of the most corrupt country in Europe and there is talk of triggering a safeguard clause. The high turnout is a simple cure for the disease. Unfortunately the people do not seem to care. We live in times when people do not seem to care about things that other people have given their lives for. There are six million eligible voters in Bulgaria, who can easily neutralize the bought votes if they just go out and cast a ballot.

Q: What is the profile of the person who sells his or her vote?

There are two types of people who sell their votes. These can be socially excluded people, who are not motivated to do anything, who are poor or from a minority group. The other group of people are those who have a good job, incomes and education, but are so cynical about Bulgaria’s political life that they are more than ready to sell their vote.

Q: The Union for Private Economic Enterprise (UPEE) announced financial prizes for those who alert about vote buying. What was the response of the people to this initiative?

A: We received more than 200 signals only for the European Parliament elections. Yet people are very scared and in most of the cases they speak only on condition of anonymity. We are not sure whether we will be able to confer our top prize of BGN 10,000 since nobody wants the publicity it will involve. My expectations are that the vote buying tensions will escalate in the last week before the general elections on July 5.

High Voter Turnout Expected in Bulgaria’s Parliamentary Elections

Sofia Weekly – Bulgaria is going to have a relatively high voter turnout in its Parliamentary Elections on Sunday, July 5, 2009.

Leading Bulgarian sociological agencies expect a voter turnout of between 50% and 60%. This means that about 3 500 000 – 3 700 000 of the 6 900 000 eligible voters are expected to cast their votes.

Sociologist Rumyana Bachvarova from the Market Links agency expects that GERB would get about 90 seats in the 240-seat Parliament, the BSP – about 55, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) – about 35, the nationalist “Ataka” party – about 22, the right-wing Blue Coalition – about 20.

According to Bachvarova, as quoted by BTA, three other players – the coalition between the conservative RZS (“Order, Law, Justice”) and the nationalist VMRO, the coalition of LIDER of Bulgarian energy tycoon Kovachki and Novoto Vreme (“New Time”), and the ruling National Movement for Stability and Progress (NMSP) of former Tsar Saxe-Coburg – are all close to the 4% barrier for entering the Bulgarian Parliament.

In her words, it is very hard to say which of these three might get below 4% and be left out of the Parliament. Still, Bachvarova predicted that RZS-VMRO are likely to get 11 MP seats, and LIDER-Novoto Vreme – 10 MP seats while not ruling out the possibility that the Tsar’s party would bring a surprise.

Sociologist Miroslava Radeva from the MBMD agency has said that a Parliament with only five parties would make it very hard for GERB’s leader Borisov to form a rightist cabinet because GERB and the Blue Coalition would hardly get more than 120 MPs needed for a majority; thus, the presence of the any of the three lesser players might make Borisov’s job easier.

Sociologist Petar Zhivkov believes that the potential rightist opposition bloc of GERB and the Blue Coalition currently has an advantage before the other major bloc comprised of the ruling BSP and DPS. Zhivkov points out, however, that the BSP had started campaign efforts to “scatter” the votes of the major rightist parties among more minor players.

Sociologist Kolyo Kolev from the Mediana agency has said that the question about which party would get the most votes would find an answer on July 5 but the question about who would be in power after that would take longer. He has predicted a lengthy period of very hard negotiations with an unclear outcome.

Sociologist Kancho Stoychev from Gallup believes that the high voter turnout would make it more difficult for the three lesser players – RZS, LIDER, and NMSP – to make it to Parliament. Stoychev believes that the ethnic Turkish party DPS would do better than it did in the June 7 European Elections to a large extent because of the votes it would get from the Bulgarian expats in Turkey.

“I expect that the results of GERB and the Blue Coalition, on the one side, and the BSP and the DPS on the other, will be pretty even, and the forming of a cabinet will not be easy at all”, Stoychev has said.

31 of Bulgaria’s 240 MPs, i.e. one MP from each of the 31 electoral districts, are going to be elected through a majority representation system. Sociologists are not exactly unanimous as to what to expect there.

While Bachvarova believes that the proportional and majority votes would not differ, Kolev thinks that about 30% of the Bulgarian voters do not approve of the majority candidates of their own party which would lead them either to skip casting a majority vote, vote for the majority candidate of another party, or to skip voting altogether.

Radeva has cited data of MBMD showing that 70% of the Bulgarian voters were not aware of who was the majority candidate of their party of choice in their electoral district. She said GERB would get between 12 and 15 majority elected MPs out of the total of 31, the BSP was likely to get 8 or 9, and the DPS – around 6.