Exit polls indicate a likely win for the center right in the Bulgarian parliamentary election. No party, however, looks poised to win the majority of votes needed to form a government.
Polls show that former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's Citizens for European Bulgaria Party (GERB) leads with up to 33 percent of the vote, followed by the Socialist Party (BSP) with 27 percent following Sunday's election. If officially confirmed, the results mean that neither party has the winning majority to form a government.
GERB Deputy leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov said his party would consider a minority government with backing from others.
"Our leader is capable of proposing and forming a government - it could be a minority one," Tsvetanov said.
Difficult talks ahead
GERB had relinquished power when Boyko Borisov stepped down in February amid protests over poverty and corruption. The party's new but weak mandate will likely force GERB back into a difficult position, both with other parties and the public.
Before stepping down in February, GERB had been in power for four years and had run a minority cabinet. As a result, it will now struggle to find allies with whom it can form a coalition.
It must contend with the other leading party, the BSP, as well as up to four other parties that polls indicate have won enough votes to earn seats in parliament.
Public opinion of political leaders was already low, reflected in the many protests and even fatal self-immolations in recent months. Sunday's snap election was called after Borisov stepped down amid the protests in February, and the campaign leading up to it did little to restore the public's faith in the political elite.
Since February, there has been much political mudslinging in a scandal-ridden campaign in which Tsvetanov was embroiled in the alleged wiretapping of opponents. Police seized 350,000 counterfeit ballots on Friday, fueling fears of electoral corruption and fraud just two days before the election.
Voter turnout was the lowest in Bulgaria's post-communist history, at just 53 percent.
Protesters looked set to head back into the streets over the election results. More than a 100 demonstrators tried to storm the main press centre in Sofia on Sunday, clashing with police.
Leaders are under pressure to overcome their differences to quickly form a new administration.
A poor nation
Bulgaria joined the European Union six years ago, and it remains the block's poorest member.
Bulgarians are suffering from low wages, with more than 22 percent living below the poverty line. Wages in Bulgaria are the lowest in the EU at $524 (400 euros) a month.
Official numbers peg Bulgaria's unemployment rate at 12 percent, but unofficial estimates have it much higher, at nearly 20 percent.
tm/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)