Centre-right GERB party ahead after Bulgaria election

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe prospect of weak coalition government now appears to be looming

Bulgaria's centre-right GERB party has won most votes in a snap parliamentary election but fell well short of an overall majority, exit polls suggest.

The party led by former PM Boyko Borisov is expected to win about 90 seats in the 240-seat chamber.

Main rivals the Socialists (BSP) and the ethnic-Turkish DPS party are likely to have 70-90 seats between them.

Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU, has been hit by protests over low living standards and by a bank crisis.

Correspondents say that, with some four smaller parties expected to overcome the 4% threshold, a highly fragmented parliament will make forming a government even more difficult.

Mr Borisov said after the poll: "I am ready to take all the risks to govern the country."

But he admitted that it would be very difficult to form a government without coalition partners.

Pipeline controversy

The exit polls suggested that Mr Borisov's party secured about 33% of the vote, while the Socialists had 16%.

Official results are expected on Monday.

The snap election follows the resignation in July of the country's Socialist-led government.

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image captionBulgaria was rocked by a banking crisis earlier this year

The splits in ex-PM Plamen Oresharski's administration began to appear after the party's disastrous showing in the European Parliament elections in May.

However, the rift with DPS, the former junior partner in the coalition, was seen as the main reason for the cabinet's resignation.

A controversy around the South Stream pipeline, meant to carry Russian gas to Western Europe via Bulgaria, also played a big part in the government's downfall.

Mr Oresharski was criticised for moving ahead with construction of the pipeline, a project frowned upon by Brussels for breaching EU rules.

In June, shortly after the announcement that Bulgaria had stopped work on the project, the country witnessed a run on two of the country's largest banks that also heightened political uncertainty.

One of them, the Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB), was closed after panicked customers withdrew millions on their deposits.

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