Bulgarians have voted two days after officials allegedly found 350,000 false ballots. The parliamentary election, which is not expected to deliver any one party a majority, has begun under scrutiny.
Voters headed to the polls in Bulgaria Sunday, bringing an end to a parliamentary campaign clouded by a wiretapping scandal, as well as the recent find of alleged false ballots. Turnout was expected to be lower than 50 percent.
"Over 350,000 printed ballots, that were ready for use in the parliamentary elections, were found in stores of a printing house in Kostinbrod," the prosecuting office in the capital, Sofia, said in a statement on Saturday. The ballots were discovered on Friday.
Politicians pointed fingers over the alleged false ballots, with some accusing the former ruling party of ex-Premier Boiko Borisov of fraud.
The interim government - which took over after the center-right GERB Prime Minister Borisov resigned - said it had received all of the ballots ordered for the election and distributed them to polling stations.
The owner of the print shop in question has denied any wrongdoing.
In February, violent demonstrations over poverty and corruption led to Borisov's resignation and the snap parliamentary election. Borisov's GERB party is running a tight race against the Socialist Party, led by Sergey Stanishev.
Low turnout expected
Bulgaria's voters were faced with a choice of candidates from 36 different parties. Recent polls suggested that the center right and Socialists were running in a tight race, and a hung parliament is expected to result from the vote.
Voter apathy was expected to be high, owing to disenchantment with the political elite, as well as a scandal-plagued campaign culminating in Sunday's vote.
In addition to the ballots, Borisov's campaign manager, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, has been embroiled in the alleged wiretapping of opponents and businesspeople. The alleged wrongdoing supposedly occurred when Tsvetanov was interior minister.
Wiretaps leaked to the media also revealed that Borisov allegedly talked to Sofia's chief prosecutor about the bribery probe, leading to fears of government interference.
Desire for change
Regardless of turnout, pundits fear a hung parliament will result from Sunday's vote and that coalition talks could prove fractious at a time when Bulgaria needs positive change.
Bulgaria joined the European Union six years ago and remains the bloc's poorest member despite unpopular austerity measures.
Bulgarians are fed up by low wages, high inflation, a 12 percent unemployment rate, high utility bills and political corruption.
More than 200 international observers were in Bulgaria to monitor Sunday's election.
tm/slk (AP, AFP, Reuters)