Wiretapping scandal hijacks election campaign in Bulgaria

10/05/2013

The focus of the early parliamentary elections has been overshadowed by a recent wiretapping case.

By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 10/05/13

photo

Sergey Stanishev, Bulgarian Socialist Party leader (centre), set off a wiretapping scandal in Bulgaria. [AFP]

The results of Bulgaria's upcoming early parliamentary elections have become even more unpredictable after citizens' attention has been turned towards a sensational scandal involving illegal wiretapping of the country's top politicians, analysts said.

The scandal has affected the election campaign, shifting the focus away from parties' programmes and platforms, Evgeniy Dainov, a professor in political science at the New Bulgarian University, said.

"This is the first election campaign [since the end of communism in 1989] in which the closer we move towards its end, fewer the people who are certain about how they are going to vote," he told SETimes. "This has never happened before."

The campaign for Sunday's (May 12th) elections was marred by allegations that a former GERB cabinet member ordered the illegal recording of key figures in the country since 2009.

The row broke out in late March when Sergey Stanishev, Bulgarian Socialist Party leader, said he sent information about the wiretapping to Sotir Tsatsarov, the country's chief prosecutor. Stanishev claimed that the illegal eavesdropping, which allegedly targeted politicians, business people and magistrates, was ordered by former Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov.

An investigation into the claims, launched by the chief prosecutor's office, found that "two-thirds" of the information forwarded by Stanishev was true.

Four senior officials of the interior ministry's Specialised Directorate Operative Technical Operations were indicted in the case, and in late April, the prosecution said that Tsvetanov was responsible for their actions.

Criminal proceedings against Tsvetanov were being suspended due to his immunity as a registered candidate for MP, the prosecution said.

Denying any wrongdoing, Tsvetanov indicated he is ready to give up his immunity, but only after the vote, "because everything that happens during an election campaign looks quite suspicious to people," he said.

Tihomir Stoychev, former head of Bulgaria's unit for fighting organised crime, told SETimes that the scandal reeks of "dishonesty in politics and political forces' will to use such means ahead of elections."

"Inappropriate legislative measures" were responsible for allowing the wiretapping, he said.

"A comprehensive institutional and political reform, including a stronger civilian control, of course, needs to be carried out to put an end to that practice," Stoychev said.

Interim Prime Minister Marin Raykov indicated that changes to the rules on the use of special means for surveillance, aimed at dealing with identified shortcomings in this area, are being reviewed, and are expected to be approved.

But that would require a parliament and a regular government.

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Many analysts think that Sunday's vote will not produce a majority to form a government and that it will be followed by months of political uncertainty.

Many citizens are angry about the situation.

"If this thing has been going on for four years, as they claim, why they had to wait so long to reveal it?" Plamen Georgiev, 46, from Sofia, told SETimes. "Then, look also at who is crying foul -- former communists! Their party holds top expertise in spying, eavesdropping, conspiracies. … But, of course, if Tsvetanov was indeed behind all that wiretapping they accuse him of, he must face justice."

Will the wiretapping scandal affect the vote in Sunday’s election? Let us know what you think.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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