The second round of Bulgaria’s 2011 presidential and municipal elections is yet to be held, but it is clear that already there is much to learn from experience.
On the one hand, the socialists and other minority parties who have been disappointed by the first round are seeking to make political capital from the chaos, but that is not reason alone to fail to examine the shortcomings.
These include vote-buying and administrative chaos. There is ample evidence of vote-buying in previous elections; it may be that this year saw more determined campaigns by the media and prosecutors to expose it, fuelling perceptions of the problem; but on the other hand, there clearly is a problem, and not a small one. Calls for tougher law enforcement and harsher penalties are well-justified.
The administrative shortcomings have included a few instances of errors in local ballot papers, but more seriously, errors on voters’ rolls, along with poor handling of the process of counting, reconciling and announcing results.
The Government may indeed be justified in saying that at least some of the problems date back to previous administrative failings, exposed only now when people went to the polls, although one must wonder, when it was well-known when the elections would be held, why harder work was not done to prevent such shortcomings.
The point as to whether the new Election Code itself is to be blamed for the problems is disputed. On reading, it seems adequate enough, and certainly no worse that the customarily unimpressive standards of Bulgarian legislative drafting. It is fair to ask whether sufficient resources, planning and training went into the exercise.
Paring away the political theatre that surrounded the first round, final opinion on the effectiveness of the process must await the second. Provisionally, there seems little to suggest that the results are not a proper reflection of what the voters wanted.
Next time, however, everyone will want to see that lessons have been learnt from experience and that elections are conducted free of chaos, confusion and controversy.