Recently, Eoghan Murphy TD was appointed by the Chairman of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to lead the short term observation mission to Bulgaria for their parliamentary elections this Sunday – an important moment in Bulgaria’s political history.
EU member state Bulgaria has 29 political parties, 7 coalitions, and 2 independent candidates contesting the elections; in all 8200 candidates will contest 240 seats. Notably, the Bulgarian electorate has never returned the same government to power since it chose democracy as its political system. Here, Murphy explains the reasons for the OSCE’s presence and outlines what the international team is there to do.
WHEN MORE THAN 200 international observers descend on Bulgaria to witness the parliamentary elections this week, it will be the first time since 1997 that the country has hosted such a full-fledged observation from the OSCE and its Parliamentary Assembly.
So, after 16 years, why are we returning?
Let me begin by pointing out that, as the political figure appointed to head this mission on behalf of the OSCE, our presence here is independent from some of the topical items that may appear in the news.
Bulgaria has moved a great distance in political, social and economic terms in two decades, since those times when the path to Brussels was considered as something inconceivable. It is 16 years since the last electoral observation mission here and the OSCE is returning to a very different political landscape.
A new level of openness
From our own pre-election visits, observations and briefings, we have seen election officials functioning with a new level of openness during this campaign, and I hope those same officials are proud to welcome the international observers this month. At our best, observation missions help keep trust and integrity in a system in which we are all invested.
No one in Sofia should view the presence of observers this year as any sort of a step back. On the contrary, Sofia’s decision to welcome OSCE observers – as enshrined in national law and Bulgaria’s international commitments – is recognition of Bulgaria’s stature within Europe and dedication to multilateral cooperation on our shared democratic goals. While we cannot be in every OSCE country to observe every election, we always strive for a geographic balance – observing electoral contests throughout our diverse region from Vancouver to Vladivostok, including EU countries, like Bulgaria.
An opportunity to reaffirm our democratic principles
With every election, no matter the present day political challenges, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to reaffirm our democratic principles. People’s dissatisfaction with the political class (a notion hardly unique to Bulgaria during the current global recession), the polarised political debate (not uncommon either), and intense competition between the parties are just some of the ingredients that make the 12 May elections a defining moment in Bulgaria’s history.
As an elected parliamentarian myself, with many elected colleagues and friends in the OSCE region, I have been in a position to witness first-hand, significant changes that have been brought about by people of different nationalities in different countries exercising their democratic rights. And whatever the outcome on election day, it is fundamentally important that people have trust in the election itself for these rights to maintain and to thrive. This is particularly true in challenging times.
We are not coming to Sofia to question Bulgarians’ ability to hold free and democratic elections, but rather to send a signal that the OSCE stands ready to actively support this country just like any other participating State. We come to proclaim our shared commitments to fundamental freedoms so necessary to our collective security community.
Process to ensure the will of the people is expressed and respected
Throughout the country on Sunday we will be present with open eyes, and come Monday, we will share our observations with the public. And should actions on election day impact the level of trust in this country’s democratic institutions, we will report them accurately and without bias to the international community.
For elections, as thrilling as they can be, in the end, are always about more than the personalities on the ballot. Every election is a test, not so much about the strength of parties but the strength of processes, a nation’s chance to affirm its own commitment to democratic governance. It is up to all those who participate in this process to ensure the will of the people is not only expressed but accepted and respected as well.
Eoghan Murphy is the Fine Gael TD for Dublin South East.