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People vote during a snap parliamentary election, at a polling station in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Spasiyana Sergieva

  • GERB has no natural allies in fractured parliament
  • Protest party ITN may struggle to form a government
  • Difficult coalition talks lie ahead

SOFIA, July 12 (Reuters) – The centre-right GERB party of former prime minister Boyko Borissov has a narrow lead in Bulgaria’s parliamentary election, partial official results showed on Monday, but it is unlikely to be able to forge a ruling coalition.

With 95% of ballots counted, GERB won 23.9% of the vote, only just ahead of the new anti-establishment party There Is Such a People (ITN) of popular TV talk show host and singer Slavi Trifonov, with 23.7%.

The razor-thin margin in Bulgaria’s second election since April reflects the deep divisions in the European Union’s poorest member state over the legacy of Borissov’s decade-long rule.

Many have turned to ITN and two smaller anti-graft parties in hope of more resolute action against widespread corruption, blaming Borissov, 62, a former bodyguard and fireman, for turning a blind eye or even supporting powerful oligarchs.

But GERB continues to benefit from Borissov’s efforts to build much needed new highways and bolster incomes while maintaining fiscal stability.

With such tight margins, the winner of the vote could still change. But even if the final official results confirm GERB as the largest party, its chances of forging a ruling coalition are close to non-existent, political observers say.

‘SYMBOLIC MEANING’

GERB came in first in April’s inconclusive election, winning 26.2%, but was shunned by other parties.

“If GERB wins, it would only have a symbolic meaning. Borissov will try to form a government, but of course he would not succeed,” said Parvan Simeonov, an analyst with pollster Gallup International.

The ITN party is better positioned at forming a government with the support of its likely partners, two small anti-graft groupings Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up! Mafia Out!.

But the three protest parties are not seen securing a parliamentary majority, meaning ITN would need the backing of traditional parties such as the Socialists or the ethnic Turkish MRF party, to replace the current interim Cabinet.

“I believe there will be a government, but it very well might have a limited life. These results do not imply a broad mandate for stability,” said Rumiana Dimitrova with Alpha Research pollster.

In a posting on his Facebook page late on Sunday, Trifonov, 54, said he would reveal ITN’s plans later on Monday.

Weeks of complex talks lie ahead. A third election can not be ruled out, meaning Bulgaria may face difficulty tapping the European Union’s multi-billion euro coronavirus recovery package or approving its 2022 budget plans.

Final official results are expected on Thursday.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova Editing by Gareth Jones

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