Bulgarians are voting in their fourth general election in less than two years, amid anxiety over soaring consumer prices and energy costs ahead of a winter overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sunday’s vote started at 7am (04:00 GMT) and will end at 8pm (17:00 GMT). Exit polls will be released after the ballots close, with the first partial official results expected in the early hours of Monday.
The European Union’s poorest member state is battling annual inflation of close to 20 percent.
Stable government has eluded the Balkan nation amid deep division within the political elite over how to tackle entrenched corruption, which was the focus of the previous election last November.
Opinion polls suggest that up to eight political parties may enter the next parliament, with the centre-right GERB party of former long-serving premier Boyko Borissov, 63, leading with about 25 to 26 percent of the vote.
Just as last year, Borissov, who has pledged to bring stability and be “stronger than the chaos”, is widely expected to struggle to find coalition partners among his major rivals who accuse him of allowing corruption to fester during his decade-long rule, which ended in 2021.
The We Continue the Change (PP) party of outgoing reformist prime minister Kiril Petkov, whose coalition cabinet collapsed in June, is running second on 16 to 17 percent in opinion polls.
Failure to forge a functioning cabinet would leave the rule of the European Union and NATO member to a caretaker administration appointed by Russia-friendly President Rumen Radev.
However, analysts say political parties, aware of economic risks from the war in Ukraine, a difficult winter ahead and voters’ frustration with political instability, might put their differences behind them and opt for a technocrat government.
“Producing a government will be difficult and will require serious compromises,” Daniel Smilov, political analyst with the Centre for Liberal Strategies, told Reuters.
Support for traditional parties, like the ethnic Turkish MRF party, and Petkov’s allies – the Socialists and anti-graft Democratic Bulgaria – remains relatively unchanged since the last election in November.
Petkov’s PP-led government took an unusually hawkish stance on Russia, in spite of Bulgaria’s traditionally friendly ties with Moscow. It refused, for example, to pay for Russian gas with roubles and has seen Gazprom cut off supplies.
One group that has seen more change is the pro-Russian ultra-nationalist Revival, which firmly opposes the adoption of the euro and wants to see Bulgaria out of NATO. It has more than doubled its support to about 11 to 14 percent, according to opinion polls.
Turnout is expected to be low with many voters angry over political infighting.
“I hope that all Bulgarians will come to their senses so … we elect a stable government, but unfortunately the feeling I see do not give me promise,” 55-year-old lawyer Yulia Grozeva told Reuters.
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