Parliamentary elections in Bulgaria a litmus test for reestablished cooperation between ODIHR and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
On 15 April 2013, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Bureau decided to reactivate the 1997 Cooperation Agreement between the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA). As a reminder, the PA unilaterally withdrew from the Cooperation Agreement at the Dublin OSCE Ministerial Council in December 2012, shocking the OSCE and its participating States. (See previous blog on this topic). As a result, the February presidential election in Armenia exposed the rift between the two institutions, with theODIHR and PA delivering separate statements at separate press conferences. This created confusion among media representatives and undermined the credibility of OSCE election observation activities. In order to reestablish a professional working relationship, an Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency and Reform, led by Francois-Xavier de Donnea (Belgium) was established. This committee issued a recommendation that the 1997 Cooperation Agreement “be applied to the upcoming election observation in Bulgaria and Albania.” The PA accepted this recommendation and added that, “it needed to be applied to ensure that the OSCE speaks with one voice in assessing elections among its 57 participating States.”
“We are all interested in reaching a solution to prevent problems from occurring in the future that we have had in the past,” PA President Wolfgang Grossruck is quoted in the press release. In addition, Secretary General Spencer Oliver is quoted as saying that “reviving the agreement is a good idea and it needs to be done.” “We have always said the agreement is a good one, and we have always complied with the agreement.” The reactivation of the Cooperation Agreement is a positive development. As could be seen with the recent parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, the ODIHR, OSCE PA and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) spoke with one voice. A joint statement of preliminary findings and conclusions was delivered on 13 May at a press conference in Sofia. This is important given the sensitivity of the Bulgarian elections.
Early parliamentary elections had to be called in Bulgaria in February 2013, after rising energy prices led to massive street protests in several Bulgarian cities. The protests turned violent and escalated when seven protestors died after setting themselves on fire. In addition, “pervasive allegations of vote buying, cases of pre-election wiretapping and concerns over last-minute incidents related to ballot security” made a professional election observation by the OSCE in the poorest EU member state ever more important. The aftermath of the election is also going to be closely watched, with the center-right winner of the election struggling to form a government and recent calls for new elections. Core members of the international election observation mission will remain in Bulgaria until 25 May, which is important given the post-election uncertainty in the country.
The sensitivity and difficulties of the Bulgarian elections underline once more how important it is that OSCE institutions work together effectively and in a professional manner. The recent reactivation of the Cooperation Agreement between the ODIHR and the OSCE PA is a positive development and hopefully the two institutions will evaluate their reestablished cooperation in a positive way.
To read the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly press release on the reactivation of the 1997 Cooperation Agreement, click here.
To read the joint ODIHR – OSCE PA – PACE statement of preliminary findings and conclusions on the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, click here.
 See Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions on the Early Parliamentary Elections in Bulgaria on 12 May 2013 of the International Election Observation Mission, p.1, available at: http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/101386