Bulgarians are going to the polls for the second time in three months after the old ruling party GERB failed to find coalition partners.
Bulgarians have gone to the polls for the second time in three months, hoping political parties can this time agree on a stable governing coalition.
Voting started on Sunday at 07:00 (04:00 GMT) and closes at 20:00 (17:00 GMT) and the exit poll results are expected shortly after.
After nearly 10 years in power, the conservative GERB party of three-time Prime Minister Boyko Borisov came first in the last election in April with 26 percent of the vote.
However, badly damaged after widespread anti-corruption protests in the summer of 2020, GERB was isolated in a fragmented legislature and failed to find partners to rule.
Since then, Borisov, 62, a former bodyguard with a black belt in karate, has taken another string of blows over revelations from the interim cabinet of poor governance and corruption charges under his supervision.
On top of that came unprecedented sanctions by the United States against Bulgarian oligarchs whom Borisov’s critics say were favored during his time as leader of the European Union’s poorest and most corruption-prone member state.
The veteran Borisov, whose political longevity has marked Bulgaria’s post-communist history, has denied any wrongdoing.
At a closing meeting in Sofia on Friday night, he criticized the interim government for allegedly using “the terror and repression” against him.
Polls put GERB neck and neck and even second behind singer and TV host Slavi Trifonov’s new anti-establishment party There is Such a People (ITN), which took public discontent to a surprising second place in April with 17.6 percent.
Now polls give both rival parties 20-21 percent.
Trifonov’s ITN has already refused to cooperate with the GERB, the opposition socialists or the Turkish minority MRF, the traditional ruling parties.
Instead, it hopes to form a coalition with the parties that emerged from last summer’s protests – the right-wing Democratic Bulgaria, with a 12 percent poll, and the left-wing Stand Up! Mafia Out, with 5-6 percent.
The three are unlikely to win a majority with some 100-110 seats in the 240-seat parliament, according to opinion polls, which envision a new ill-fragmented legislature with six or even seven parties crossing the 4 percent barrier to entry.
“In order to have a stable government…we cannot rule out a third or fourth election,” ITN Vice-President Toshko Yordanov told Nova Television on Wednesday.
He said this would be done to prevent “a cabinet … which could be impeached by parliament at any time”.
“The country will not collapse, this is the democratic process,” Yordanov added in a rare public appearance at the end of an unconventional campaign with most parties eschewing media interviews.
Trifonov himself is not active and has announced that he will not serve as prime minister.
For the first time, voting will mainly be done by machine to limit voter fraud.
The interim cabinet has set a goal to limit widespread vote buying and voter intimidation — long-standing practices by political parties that account for 5-19 percent of the vote, according to the Sofia-based Anti-Corruption Fund Foundation .
More than 900 people have been arrested recently for allegedly trying to bribe penniless voters with 20-50 leva ($12-30), firewood and even basic foodstuffs such as flour, bread or lentils, Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov said Friday.