Freedom House Stresses Bulgaria's Failures in Judiciary, Elections

Domestic | June 7, 2012, Thursday // 13:34|  views

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Over two decades after 1989, Bulgaria continues to be in a "semi-consolidated democracy", alongside Romania, Serbia, Macedonia and Croatia, according to the 2012 edition of the Nations in Transit report of United States-based NGO Freedom House.

Unlike this group, Central European and Baltic States have developed into "consolidated democracies", according to the survey.

The report keeps track of democratic change in seven areas: the electoral process, civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, local democratic governance, judicial framework and independence, and corruption. Every country is given a score from 1 to 7 (best to worst) on each area.

A section of the report devoted to Bulgaria notes that in 2011, there were no significant changes in five out of seven categories, while the country's ratings in the "electoral process" and "judicial framework and independence" deteriorated.

According to Freedom House, Bulgaria's overall estimate was best in 2008, after which it started worsening slowly, the forecast being that in 2012 the country will register further declines in terms of the state of democracy.

"Bulgaria officially joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004 and the European Union (EU) in 2007. Power has changed hands peacefully, with the country enjoying more than a decade of stable, full-term governments. The county has a stable parliament, sound government structures, an active civil society, and a free media," the report says.

"These successes notwithstanding, events in 2011 highlighted the persistence of challenges facing Bulgaria's democratic institutions. Presidential and local elections were marked by severe administrative inefficiency and delayed tabulation of results. Inefficiency and corruption within the judiciary are still considered a major stumbling block in Bulgaria's battle against high-level corruption and organized crime," the report compiled by Georgi Ganev from the Sofia-based Center for Liberal Strategies says.

Regarding the quality of Bulgaria's national governance, the survey states that public trust trust in the government and in Prime Minister Boyko Borisov continued to decrease slightly during the year, remaining on about the same level as with the previous three governments and prime ministers.

"However, the government's practice of ad hoc policymaking persists in the absence of more programmatic governance strategies," the report says, adding that Bulgaria's national democratic governance rating remains unchanged at 3.50.

A comparison with previous years, however, shows that Bulgaria has been registering gradual declines in the category since 2006.

The 2012 Nations in Transit report states that there were no notable changes in the institutional setup or effectiveness of local governance in Bulgaria in 2011.

The document, however, draws attention to the fact that the processing of the results of the local elections held in end-October 2011 came under severe criticism and triggered numerous court appeals, which are still pending.

"2011 is the opening year for the planning of the EU 2014-20 financial period, in which Bulgarian municipalities will have improved opportunities to access significant resources. However, this improved prospect is counterbalanced by continuing sluggish recovery from the global economic downturn," the document says.

Freedom House keeps Bulgaria's 2012 local governance rating unchanged at 3.00.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria's civil society remains on the same level from 2007, with a rating of 2.50.

In end-2011 there were a total of officially registered 9137 NGOs, of which only 0.5% were offices of foreign entities.

"However, the ability of nongovernmental organizations to raise funds domestically remains limited, impeding the emergence of rich feedback links between NGOs and local communities. The absence of speci?c regulations for lobbying activities also creates a space for dubious practices and hinders the ability of civil actors to effectively express and pursue the interests of various segments of society," the report concludes.

After the deterioration in the "independent media" category in 2009, Bulgaria stayed on the same level in the next few years.

There were no improvements in 2011, which brought "further concentration of media ownership and increased accusations of overlap between media and political interests."

The document mentions the change of ownership at Trud and 24 Chasa, Bulgaria's two top-selling dailies, which were acquired by businessmen Ognyan Donev and Lyubomir Pavlov and the BG Printmedia group.

It also reminds about the February 2011 explosion at the office of Galeria, "a newspaper known for its critical coverage of the GERB government" and about the blown-up car of TV anchor Sasho Dikov, who is "also known for his anti-GERB views."

Bulgaria's independent media rating remains unchanged at 3.75.

As regards the fight against corruption, Bulgaria's rating has remained relatively unchanged from 2009, at 4.00 in the current edition of the report.

"The system of bodies charged with fighting corruption continues to lack sufficient coordination and clarity of responsibility and accountability," the document states.

Freedom House emphasizes that "the inability of authorities to curb rampant organized crime, particularly at customs check-points, caused the European Union to back out of scheduled talks to admit Bulgaria to the Schengen customs-free zone."

Regarding the situation in Bulgaria's judiciary, the NGO says that the system's increased efforts to combat corruption and organized crime have often come to nothing, "with cases subject to lengthy procedural delays, defective pre-trial investigations, and dismissal on technicalities."

The report lists a number of problems, including the delayed establishment of the of specialized courts for high-level corruption cases, the scandals at the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and the investigation led by the European Association of Judges which determined that that Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov's persistent threats endangered the independence of the justice system and violated European standards for the rule of law.

Due to the increasing threats to the independence of Bulgaria's judiciary, the rating for judicial framework and independence drops from 3.00 to 3.25.

Bulgaria's performance in the "electoral process" category also deteriorates, with the rating falling from 1.75 to 2.00.

"In addition to the usual allegations of vote buying and manipulation of results, the elections were characterized by considerable administrative inefficiency, resulting in problems with electoral registers, long voting queues, and delays in the announcement of official results," the report says about the 2-in-1 presidential and municipal elections held in end-October 2011.

As regards the outlook for 2012, the authors of the report say that the main goal of the Bulgarian government will be to control the domestic consequences of the global financial and economic crisis while implementing long-overdue reforms in sectors such as healthcare, higher education and the judiciary.

"The government still enjoys comfortable levels of public support and has a window of opportunity to pursue long-term goals. Its biggest challenges remain the effectiveness of public spending and the measures to address the problems of organized crime and corruption," the report says.

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Tags: freedom house, GERB, judiciary, election process, corruption, democracy, local government, Supreme Judicial Council, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov


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