Controlled voting and outright buying of votes flourishes in Bulgaria despite recent criminalization of such practices. The intensive policymaking on the issue didn't shatter the well-developed market for votes controlled by organized crime networks , as recent research shows, and it has displaced the good old political patronage that used to get the votes. It also provides a case in point of how feeble Bulgaria's law enforcement system has become.
Vote buying not only allows organized crime to influence Bulgarian politics, but it skews political representation away from the true will of the genuine voters. A typical demonstration of such voting distortion is the high level of electoral volatility, a criterion in which Bulgaria is among the leaders in Central and Eastern Europe.
Beginning in the 1990s, when the foundations of Bulgaria's present-day organized crime systems were first laid, the term "organized crime" emerged as a catchphrase for illegal linkages between business and political spheres. The partial political and economic stabilization of Bulgaria during the 2000s - marked by the country's accession to NATO in 2004 and to the EU in 2007 - disrupted temporarily domestic organized crime and its main sources of illegal incomes. As a result, accumulated criminal capital channeled its way into the formal economy and the political parties. Thus, new criminal networks emerged, positioned to conduct complex and highly profitable white-collar criminal activities. Such networks infiltrated and gained control over numerous public institutions by corrupt means, thus ensuring them the award of manipulated public tenders and inside access to business sectors including the gambling, tourism and real estate.
However, this is not a typical case of state capture, as defined by the mainstream literature, because we deal with competitive illicit networks, not with monopolistic or oligopolistic agents. The periodic clashes of these networks become visible through arbitrary actions of the law-enforcing agencies and court proceedings used for retribution. Therefore, we have a case of competitive network state capture. What differentiates it from classical political corruption is the relative reticence of the system towards newcomers and ordinary economic agents.
Illicit white collar criminal networks in Bulgaria are neither strictly nor hierarchically structured, rather, they form loose webs interconnected by horizontal ties and involve not only criminals but also politicians, prosecutors, judges, police officers, bankers, businessmen, and even famous actors and representatives of the orthodox church. They are to a large extent self-organizing structures operated by the unexpected behavior of their compounds, forming imperatively flexible network structure.
The illicit networks compete for control of public institutions at all levels. This struggle is most evident at the municipal level and reaches its peaks during elections when control over the local economy is at stake. The local brokers monitor how individual voters vote directly or indirectly, depending on the specific situation either by relying on members of the electoral administration or by using diverse clues of how the vote was cast. The "aggregate turnout" approach is also used in controlling the vote of whole villages or neighborhoods.
The financial and operative resources for such illegal manipulations come from the distribution of illicit drugs, racketeering, smuggling, trafficking, prostitution, and illegal gambling. This makes the market for votes part of organized crime activities. Therefore, we can classify it as an organized criminal market operated by competitive illicit networks aiming at capturing public institutions.
The article is exert from the recently published book The controlled Voting and Vote Buying as A Tool for state capture from the organized crime networks: political risks and trends
* Stoycho Stoychev is assistant professor at the Political Science Department of Sofia University, where I teach quantitative methods and political risk analysis. My current research is focused on controlled voting and criminal networks