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Uncertainty reigns after Bulgarian election stalemate

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Uncertainty reigns after Bulgarian election stalemate
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A political stalemate threatens to linger in Bulgaria after the winner of Sunday’s election – the centre-right GERB party – failed to form a government on Monday. Analysts say the chance that the two biggest parties, GERB and the Socialists – who are lagging behind by only 3% of the vote – can be allies is rather small.

The election results meant a victory of sorts for any party with sufficient votes to get into parliament. The GERB party of former prime minister, Boiko Borisov won 31 percent of the vote, ahead of the Socialists. The Socialist party significantly improved its results since the last election, gathering 27 percent of votes cast at the weekend. The liberal party and the ethnic Turkish party, MRF, have easily enough votes to get into parliament. The nationalist Attack party, with its 7,4% of the vote, did well enough to suggest that they may hold the balance of power; the larger parties may well need Attack’s support to form a coalition. The leaders of Attack are already calling for a new vote, apparently hopeful they may improve their results.

To add to the uncertainty, there have been loud accusations of electoral fraud, sparked after Bulgarian authorities seized 350,000 illegally printed ballots just hours before the start of the elections. The false ballots were found in a printing house in Kostinbrod in western Bulgaria two days after the delivery deadline for all 7,8 million ballot-papers.

At just 53%, it was the lowest turnout in Bulgarian elections since the fall of the communist regime in 1989. Observers say it shows the degree of public disenchantment with the political class. It was crowds of protesters angry at corruption and rising energy prices who chased away the government of Boiko Borisov in February.

Since then, Borisov has tried to show that he and his party have changed their ways and has followed a more left-leaning path in politics, promising more jobs and higher salaries. Because of the soaring energy prices, Bulgaria must diversify its sources of energy; this could be solved by the South Stream pipeline project, in which Bulgaria plays a key role.

Meanwhile, there is much anger about low living standards in the EU’s poorest country, where unemployment is close to an eight-year high. The possibility of no outright winner in these elections will stoke fears of further instability in Bulgaria, and do nothing to attract much-needed investment.