OSCE Observers: Vote-Buying, Media Mar Bulgaria's Elections

OSCE Observers: Vote-Buying, Media Mar Bulgaria's Elections

Observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have generally assessed Bulgaria's presidential and local elections held Sunday positively but have raised concerns about vote-buying and media coverage.

In a statement issued Monday, the observer mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) made an overall positive assessment of yesterday's presidential and municipal elections in Bulgaria.

However, it also said continued reform is needed to address concerns such as pervasive allegations of vote-buying and the near absence of any editorial coverage of the campaign in the media.

"These elections provided voters with a wide choice of political options, and they took place in an environment which showed respect for fundamental freedoms," said Vadim Zhdanovich, the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission.

But he stressed that further efforts are needed to enhance the integrity of the election process and increase public confidence.

The observers noted that the Bulgarian elections were administered in an overall professional manner and on the basis of new legislation that provides a sound basis for the conduct of democratic elections; in addition, the registration process was inclusive, and candidates were able to campaign freely and without impediments.

But persistent and widespread allegations of vote-buying undermined confidence in the election process in Bulgaria, despite what is described as the authorities' efforts to combat such practices.

The OSCE observers further stressed that almost all campaign coverage by the media was paid for by the contestants, as provided by law, which "resulted in the near absence of independent editorial coverage or analysis of the campaign in the public and private media."

The predominance of paid campaign coverage impacted negatively on the level of information available to voters, the OSCE mission concluded.

The OSCE, however, has made a perplexing point about "provisions restricting the use of minority languages in the campaign" taken to mean that this disadvantages minority groups and appears to be at odds with OSCE commitments, not accounting for the fact that constitutional and official language in Bulgaria is Bulgarian.

The observers said there were "allegations that minorities, especially Roma, were particularly susceptible to undue influence such as vote-buying and pressure, and that some contestants used nationalistic and inflammatory language against minorities."

Apparently disregarding the mess with the counting of the polling station protocols in Sofia which was a hell for all respective electoral commission members seeking to turn their protocols to the Sofia Electoral Commission, the OSCE observers state that "voting, counting and tabulation appeared to proceed in a calm, orderly and professional manner, with a few procedural problems noted. Processing of voters was often slow, resulting in queues and in an extension of voting hours."/Source: Sofia News Agency/

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