The Ultimate Guide to Vote Buying in Bulgarian Elections: 5 Easy StepsSpecial Report |Author: Ivan Dikov | July 1, 2009, Wednesday // 14:37| views
The undercover journalists from the 24 Chasa Daily managed to get the locals excited about a non-existing party by promising them a few bucks. Photo by 24 Chasa Daily
Note: The purpose of this article is to inform the readers of Novinite.com about vote buying in Bulgaria, i.e. to explain how it works. It is not intended to encourage anyone to buy or sell votes in Bulgarian elections. Even though we are concerned that some of our readers might be tempted to try it since, as one could clearly see, that is just a piece of cake.
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.
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