OSCE's Dilemma over Bulgaria's Parliamentary Elections

PeopleOther ♦ Published: August 31, 2022; 22:47 ♦ (Vindobona)

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) opened its election observation mission on the 2 October early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, following an official invitation from the national authorities. The OSCE mission will face political turmoil in a country fighting corruption, threatened to be overshadowed by Russian influence and the war in Ukraine

The Independence Square in Sofia houses the government of Bulgaria. The headquarters of the Presidency (right), the National Assembly (centre) and the Council of Ministers (left). / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons, Alex Alishevskikh, CC BY 2.0

Bulgaria is a republic in southeastern Europe with a population of about 6.5 million. Bulgaria has been a member of NATO since 2004 and joined the EU in 2007.

Nevertheless, the country is struggling with problems. In the EU comparison, Bulgaria is ranked at the bottom of most indices. Although the country's economy is developing relatively well, it has to contend with a great deal of corruption and limited freedom of the press. The country also faces a demographic crisis, as its population has been shrinking annually since about 1990.

The party system is characterized by two main sociopolitical fault lines. One is the conflict between conservative and liberal parties, the other between pro-Russian and pro-Western parties. Especially now, in the shadow of the Ukraine war, voices are becoming broad that Russian influence could happen in the upcoming elections in Bulgaria.

Turbulent History of Bulgarian Governments

Bulgaria is scheduled to hold an early parliamentary election on Oct. 2, 2022, to elect members of the National Assembly. The early elections were called after the fall of the Petkov government, a four-party coalition, in June 2022.

This is the third early parliamentary election since 2021, an unprecedented situation in Bulgarian history, the previous ones being the July and November 2021 elections.

Kiril Petkov is a Bulgarian politician from the platform party "We Continue the Change" (PP), as well as an economist and entrepreneur. He is considered liberal and European-oriented.

The coalition that resulted from the general elections in November 2021, consisted of the PP (Prodlzavame Promyanata) - Kiril Petkovs Party and three other parties (DPS, BSPzB, ITN), could not manage to set aside their differences.

In the end, it was the ITN that withdrew from the government, citing differences in deciding the state budget and the state of fighting corruption. Following the withdrawal, former Prime minister Boyko Borisov's Party the GERB successfully initiated a no-confidence vote against Kiril Petkov's coalition.

Boyko Borisov, who was Prime Minister of Bulgaria until 2021, is known that under him Bulgaria in particular remained a country heavily characterized by corruption and restricted freedom of the press.

Boyko Borissov governed the country for the past decade, supporting the EU while carrying out projects that served Russian interests, including the rapid completion of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline. Boyko Borisov is infamous for his connections to Putin and other Russian dignitaries.

After the short-term arrest of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov on suspicion of corruption and his release shortly thereafter in March 2022, Petkov said there was no independent public prosecutor's office in Bulgaria.

Threat of Russian Interference

Of course, Borisov is standing again now, along with other parties. At the moment it is unclear which parties are leaning more toward Moscow than towards Brussels. At the moment, a caretaker government reigns that has made itself unpopular because it seems to be flirting with Moscow. The new caretaker government was installed by Rumen Radev, an independent aligned with the Russia-friendly Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP).

According to Foreign policy, after Bulgaria's gas supply was cut off in April, the new government considered restarting its contract with Gazprom.

Until Bulgaria refused to pay in rubles, Gazprom covered more than 90 percent of Bulgaria's gas supply. As a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the EU set a goal to end dependence on Russian fossil fuels before the end of the decade. However, Bulgaria was one of the first countries to have its gas supplies cut off, as Russia weaponized its control over the bloc, according to Foreign Policy. Now the caretaker government is trying to find its way back to Russia and Gazprom.

The last elections in Bulgaria were a battle between pro-Moscow parties and western-leaning parties. According to Foreign Policy, despite the failure of the first two attempts to form a government, "We Continue the Change" was elected as the third party, led by Petkov, who served as a caretaker government minister. According to Foreign Policy, while they were the top vote-getters and formed a coalition, it was a shaky truce among four parties, including the BSP.

The BSP has a long history of ties to Russia, according to Foreign Policy. The current party is the direct descendent of the old Bulgarian Communist Party, which was a loyal partner to the Soviet Union. According to Foreign Policy, despite Bulgaria being a member of NATO and the EU the country "is often considered a trojan horse for energy policy in the EU for a very long time."

OSCE Election Observation Mission in Bulgaria

OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) announced today that it is preparing to deploy an Election Observation Mission for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Bulgaria. Due to the political problems accompanying the elections in Bulgaria, the OSCE's mission is important.

A core team of 11 international experts will be based in Sofia and 12 long-term observers will be deployed throughout the country from 7 September under the leadership of Nina Suomalainen. Additionally, 200 short-term observers have been requested to arrive several days before election day.

An integral part of the observation process is meeting with state officials, political parties and candidates, civil society, the media, and members of the international community.

As well as assessing compliance with national laws and international standards for democratic elections, the mission will assess the OSCE's commitments to conducting the elections. A major focus will be on implementing the legal framework, registering candidates, conducting campaigns on social networks and covering media coverage of elections.

Pre- and post-election developments will be closely monitored by observers. Additionally, ODIHR will assess the implementation of previous election recommendations.

ODIHR will observe the opening of polling stations, voting, counting of ballots, and tabulation of results on election day with a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

The political turmoil in Bulgaria and the threat of Russian interference mean a serious task for OSCE and its Election Observation Mission. Especially protecting the elections from any kind of manipulation through Russian interference or other malicious intentions, even from inside Bulgaria.


Foreign Policy