SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) - The center-right GERB party of ex-premier Boyko Borissov appeared to be the winner of Bulgaria's parliamentary election, the country's central electoral commission said on Monday, with nearly 99% of the ballots counted.
Results showed the party receiving 25.4% of the vote, edging out the reformist We Continue the Change party founded a year ago by two Harvard graduates, by more than 5 percentage points.
Five other parties are expected to have made it into the 240-seat chamber. They are the ethnic Turkish MRF party with 13.7%, pro-Russian Vazrazhdane party with 10.2 %, the Socialist party with 9.3%, the liberal anti-corruption group Democratic Bulgaria with 7.5%, and the newly formed nationalist Bulgarian Rise party on 4.6%.
The early election came after a fragile coalition led by Kiril Petkov of the We Continue the Change party lost a no-confidence vote in June.
The European Union nation's fourth election in 18 months was marked by a raging war nearby, political instability and economic hardships in the bloc's poorest member. A low turnout reflected voter apathy.
If these results are confirmed by the final count, Borissov, 63, will be handed a mandate to form his fourth cabinet. It will be an uphill task for him to produce a stable governing coalition, however, since most political groups have in advance rejected any cooperation with his GERB party, which presided over years of corruption that hampered development.
Petkov conceded defeat late Sunday and said that now GERB had the responsibility to form a coalition and govern the country.
Petkov ran on promises to continue efforts to eradicate corruption, but a European energy crisis sparked by Russia's war on Ukraine was the dominant economic theme for voters.
Many Bulgarians share pro-Russia sentiments, which provides fertile soil for aggressive Kremlin propaganda in the Balkan country.
The pro-Russia party Vazrazhdane, riding on those feelings, managed to double its support compared with the previous election, and a second nationalist party with pro-Moscow rhetoric cleared the 4-percent-threshold to enter parliament.
Political analysts predict weeks of talks to form a viable coalition but do not exclude the possibility of another election.
Vessela Cherneva, deputy chief of the European Council on Foreign Relations, sees the possibility of two types of coalitions: an anti-corruption coalition, in which GERB under Borissov would find no place, or a geopolitical coalition of the centrist parties, which would be possible only if Borissov resigns from leading his party.
"A scenario under which there is no coalition possible would undermine parliamentary democracy in Bulgaria and will further tilt the balance toward the pro-Russian President (Rumen) Radev," Cherneva said.