European political leaders speak on Bulgaria’s ‘illegal ballots’ controversy

European political leaders speak on Bulgaria’s ‘illegal ballots’ controversy


By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Leaders and senior members of political groups at European Union level have spoken on the controversy in Bulgaria involving alleged illegal ballots as rival sides in the domestic political battle seek allies.

Media reports and political party comments about the alleged illegal ballots, found by prosecutors and national security agents in a warehouse, caused uproar on the May 11 “day of contemplation” ahead of Bulgaria’s parliamentary elections. Media reports alleged a link between the owner of the firm that had printed the ballots and Borissov’s party.

Boiko Borissov, leader of Bulgaria’s former governing party GERB, has cited these political comments as his party’s basis for its stated intention to challenge the election in the Constitutional Court. He intends the move against a background of his party having won the largest share of votes, but insufficient to form a majority government – or even a minority government that would be supported by the other three parties in Parliament.

Borissov, at a news conference on May 16, alleged that the comments violated the rules against campaigning on the “day of contemplation”. Soon afterwards, the Central Election Commission countered by saying that it did not believe that the statements on May 11 violated the law.

In parallel with the domestic political drama, Bulgarian media and political parties have been seeking to draw the European Commission into the drama, even though EC practice is not to comment on domestic political affairs unless there is a direct clash with EU rules.

Borissov also has sought to portray the fact that his party got the largest share of votes as not only a defeat for Sergei Stanishev as leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, but also as leader of the Party of European Socialists.

According to a report by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio on May 16, Hannes Swoboda, president of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), said that the ballots case showed the incompetence of GERB “and its preparedness to commit election fraud”.

GERB should not even attempt to form a government following such a shameful act, Swoboda said. The attempt to manipulate election results threw even greater discredit on Bulgaria’s EU image, he said. The scandal could even affect Bulgaria’s Schengen prospects and the duration of the co-operation and verification mechanism in the field of justice and home affairs.

The leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, Graham Watson, agreed with the view of Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev on the necessity for a thorough investigation of the case.

Watson said that in view of the many questions raised by the 350 000 additional ballots found, the best option was for the other three parties that obtained parliamentary seats to constitute an alternative Cabinet and bring Bulgaria back on the path of true democracy.

One of these three parties, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, is a member of the ALDE group.

Watson said that the “incident” was certain to be included in the European Commission’s next report on Bulgaria.

Manfred Weber, deputy head of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) – of which GERB is a member – did not believe that the time had come for the EU to interfere, Bulgarian National Radio said.

Weber expressed surprise that the leaders of the socialists and liberals at the EP had already pinned the blame on GERB.

“It would seem that they already know more than Bulgarian authorities do,” Weber said, adding that the EPP preferred to wait for the conclusions of the relevant national authorities.

Weber said that the claims by Swoboda and Watson were nothing but a political attack. He issued an assurance that the EPP had not lost its confidence in GERB and its leader, Borissov.