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Deadlock, demos loom after tight Bulgarian election

Protestors hold torches during a demonstration in front of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia on May 12, 2013
Protestors hold torches during a demonstration in front of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia on May 12, 2013. The European Union's poorest country Bulgaria faced fresh political uncertainty Monday after inconclusive elections held three months after

The European Union's poorest country Bulgaria faced fresh political uncertainty Monday after inconclusive elections held three months after the biggest demonstrations in years forced the government to resign.

According to exit polls, the conservative GERB party of bodyguard ex-premier Boyko Borisov won the most votes, but with between 29.6 and 32 percent of the vote fell short of a majority.

In second place was the socialist BSP party on 25.6-26.2 percent, followed by the Turkish minority grouping MRF on 9.9-13.4 percent and the ultra-nationalist Ataka on 7.0-8.5 percent.

It remained unclear yet if a fifth party would pass the 4.0-percent minimum to win seats. The first official results were not expected until late Monday morning and the allocation of seats not for several days.

The results, if confirmed, mean that Borisov, 53, will have to form a coalition, but it is far from clear which constellation might emerge.

One possibility is a tie-up with Ataka, if they have enough seats, but the ultra-nationalists on Sunday ruled this out.

If Borisov fails to form a government, the mandate will pass to the socialists, but they and their preferred partner MRF look to have fallen short of a combined majority in the 240-seat parliament too, the exit polls suggested.

Torn poster of former Bulgarian prime minister and leader of the GERB party Boyko Borisov in Sofia on May 12, 2013
Torn campaign poster for former Bulgarian prime minister and leader of the conservative GERB party Boyko Borisov in Sofia on May 12, 2013.

"The results are very tight. The fifth player, if there is one, could be kingmaker," Gallup analyst Andrey Raychev said.

"There is a big risk there will be a deadlocked parliament," added another analyst, Ognyan Minchev.

Analysts say that with no clear result, Bulgaria was likely to see a repeat of the anti-poverty and corruption protests that rocked the country over the winter and forced Borisov to throw in the towel.

Already on Sunday night around 150 protestors clashed with police, throwing stones and shouting "Mafia!"

"The vote is on track to repeat the previous parliament of the oligarchy and mafia that we forced out. We'll have barricades this time not just protests," one of the organisers of the rallies Angel Slavchev said.

Bulgaria's winter of discontent saw seven people set themselves on fire, six of whom died.

Six years after joining the European Union, almost a quarter of Bulgarians live below the official poverty line.

Protesters try to remove a metal fence around the National Palace of Culture in Sofia on May 12, 2013
Protesters try to remove a metal fence around the National Palace of Culture in Sofia on May 12, 2013.

The economy grew just 0.8 percent in 2012 and foreign investment has slumped in recent years, sending unemployment up to almost 20 percent, according to unofficial estimates.

Monthly salaries in Bulgaria, sandwiched between Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Romania and the Black Sea, are frozen at 400 euros ($520) and pensions at 138 euros.

Many voters feel that politicians spend too much time bickering and lining their own pockets and not enough tackling the country's economic problems, corruption and inequalities.

Further poisoning the atmosphere has been allegations of vote-rigging during the election campaign, including on Saturday the discovery of 350,000 unaccounted-for ballot papers at a printing firm whose owner is reportedly close to Borisov's party.

Prosecutors have also said they have enough evidence to accuse Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Borisov's former interior minister and campaign manager, of ordering wiretaps on the premier's political opponents.

Five opposition parties -- excluding GERB -- have commissioned an independent vote count by an Austrian agency, and it is possible that the official results will be challenged.

Partial results by this agency early Monday, based on a parallel count in 164 constituencies, also gave GERB the lead, with 30.1 percent, followed by the BSP with 26.1 percent, the MRF with 11.6 percent and Ataka with 7.8 percent.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent its biggest monitoring mission to Bulgaria since its first post-communism elections in 1990, was due to report its findings on Monday.

"This is the last chance for the two big parties to show that they can take responsibility," teacher Stayko Gudzhev, 57, said outside a polling station in a well-to-do neighbourhood in downtown Sofia on Sunday.

"If they don't do it, this will be the end of both GERB and BSP."

Asked if he hoped that elections would bring about change, Dimitar, a student, shrugged: "Hope? I just want to finish my studies and go abroad."

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