Bulgaria election starts, Turks from Turkey face obstacles

Bulgarians started to vote in a parliamentary election expected to remove a Socialist-led coalition from power, but Turks from Turkey face some obstacles.

Sunday’s vote is widely expected to hand power to the centre-right party of Boiko Borisov, the mayor of the capital Sofia.

Voting started at 6 a.m. local time (0300 GMT) and ends at 7 p.m., with exit polls due shortly after close. Turnout is expected at just over 50 percent, similar to four years ago.

At least 6.8 million voters will be choosing between some 4,500 candidates from 14 political parties and four coalitions for parliament’s 240 seats.

Latest opinion polls have suggested Sergei Stanishev, the prime minister, will find it hard to win the election.

Borisov is tipped to score an easy victory, but he may not get enough votes to form a government without seeking a coalition partner.

His party has been riding high on promises to punish corrupt officials and criminals.


Bulgarian police arrested at least five people on Saturday on suspicion of vote buying and Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev urged Bulgarians not to jeopardise their future in Sunday’s parliamentary election.

The vote has been marred by widespread allegations of vote buying by virtually all political parties.

Political parties have been accusing each other of offering money, food and other basic commodities to mainly poor communities and minorities such as the Roma people in exchange for votes.

Bulgaria is also under pressure from the EU to combat corruption and organised crime to avoid more sanctions after Brussels cut its access to over half a billion euros in EU aid last year.

Police and the national security agency said they had launched a campaign across the Balkan country to prevent vote buying and made at least five arrests so far. Police confiscated hundreds of identity cards, lists of names, computers and cash.

The non-government group, Union for Business Initiative, said earlier this week that drug dealers offered free drugs in Bulgaria’s second biggest city of Plovdiv in return for votes, while police were investigating a case in the city of Pazardzhik of Roma people having their overdue water bills paid.

In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Stanishev called on Bulgarians not to sell their votes and warned politicians, parties and vote buyers they would be punished if found guilty.

“These disgusting practices inflict terrible scars on our democracy. But the most scary thing is that in return for a pathetically small amount of money, you put your own future and that of your children and families at stake,” Stanishev said.

“I have given categorical instructions to police and the national security agency to … send to court everyone who takes part in this crime.”

In April, parliament doubled the maximum jail term to six years for those who organise vote-buying schemes and five years for vote buyers themselves.

Media reports about widespread vote buying before local elections in 2007 led parliament to introduce jail terms for the crime.

“Voter anger”

Opinion polls show the Socialist party that leads Sofia’s current coalition government will bear the brunt of voter anger over a recession and a climate of impunity for crime bosses that has cost Bulgaria millions of euros in aid.

Last year Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007 and is now the bloc’s poorest member, lost access to some of its EU funds as punishment for failing to deal with graft.

If opinion polls prove correct, the centrist opposition party of Sofia Mayor Boiko Borisov, GERB, will get a shot at forming government, most likely another coalition.

Borisov has promised to attack crime quickly but observers are cautious because of his limited track record and concerns his ability to introduce reforms may be watered down in any coalition talks.

“Preventing Turks from voting”

Bulgarian media reported some attempts to prevent Turks from voting.

Bulgarian Turks were forced to leave the country during the so-called “revival process” at the end of the 80s. A “revival process” launched by the late communist dictator Todor Zhivkov to forcibly assimilate Muslims culminated with a campaign to force them to change their names, and the exodus of over 300,000 ethnic Turks to neighbouring Turkey in 1989.

According to Amnesty International, at least 100 Muslims died in his four-month campaign to force them to change their names to Bulgarian, which banned the Turkish language in public. It also banned the wearing of headscarves and other Islamic customs such as circumcision and funeral rights.

Bulgaria’s Novinite on Saturday said “Members of Bulgaria’s opposition “Order, Law and Justice” (RZS) party blocked the border with Turkey.”

The report quoted the party as saying “that it would not allow the traffic of buses with Turkish citizens who come to vote in Bulgaria”.

“The traffic is complete stopped at the border passing point Generalovo. RZS members do not allow any vehicles to pass in both directions. Currently, lines of cars have formed in both directions,” the report said.

The report also said “RZS party along with their coalition partners have blockaded Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish party (DPS) headquarters.”

Yane Yanev, Leader of RZS, threatened to stage more protests across the country especially at the Turkish border.

Bulgarians with double citizenship in Turkey will have the opportunity to cast a ballot.

Muslims make up about 12 percent of the Balkan country’s 7.6 million people and they are native in European Union member-Bulgaria. Most are the descendants of ethnic Turks who arrived during five centuries of Ottoman rule that ended in 1878. Muslims and Christians live alongside in a culture known as “komshuluk,” or neighbourly relations.



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