A newly launched centrist movement has a three-point lead over Bulgaria's former ruling GERB party, with 75% of Sunday's vote counted.
Bulgaria's prospects for forming a new government looked a little more concrete on Monday, following the surprisingly strong showing for a newly created anti-corruption party in the country's third election in eight months.
With 75% of ballots counted, the new centrist party "We Continue the Change" (PP) has taken over 25% of the vote, well ahead of the former ruling GERB party. The ex-prime minister Boiko Borissov's conservatives have scored 22%.
Founded only few weeks ago by two Harvard graduates, Kiril Petkov and Asen Vasilev, PP quickly won support due to their resolute anti-graft actions and pledges to bring transparency, zero tolerance for corruption and reforms to key sectors in the European Union's poorest member.
It's thought that the votes of Bulgarians abroad could further amplify the margin of victory for these political novices.
“We will be the number one political force,” Petkov told reporters after initial results were released. “We will have a majority of 121 MPs in the 240-seat parliament and Bulgaria will have a regular coalition Cabinet.”
It could be days before the final official results are announced. If they confirm the initial counts, Petkov would be handed a mandate to form a new government.
There Is Such a People (ITN), headed by pop singer and former TV star Slavi Trifonov, was set to lose a considerable number of points after failing to form a coalition over the summer.
Since massive demonstrations in the summer of 2020 against Borissov's government, many Bulgarians have been hoping for change. General elections in April and again in July of this year were inconclusive, with parties failing to form a coalition.
Voters in Bulgaria took to the polls once again on Sunday, amid a surge of coronavirus infections.
Bulgaria has the lowest vaccination rate in the European Union, with less than one-third of adults fully vaccinated.
Petkov — who is seeking to become prime minister — has said he wants to pursue "transparent" coalition negotiations with the right-wing Democratic Bulgaria, which took six percent of the vote, and Trifonov's party which won nearly 10%.
Analysts believe the socialists (PSB), with 10% of the vote, would be a fourth party in the coalition.
There are two elections in one this time around.
Incumbent President Rumen Radev is running for a second five-year term and is expected to make it to a second round runoff vote.
A Gallup International exit poll suggested that Radev has a commanding lead in his quest for a second five-year term but will still have to face runner-up Anastas Gerdzhikov in a November 21 runoff as voter turnout remained below the needed 50%. Around 6.7 million people are eligible to vote.
Radev, a vocal critic of Borissov, said Sunday that he voted for freedom, legality, and justice.
There are 240 seats up for grabs in the parliament with seven main political groupings competing.
It's likely that the election will result in weeks of negotiations in trying to form a coalition, with three parties attempting to do so before new elections are called.