Final polls predict tight Bulgarian election

Bulgaria's main parties are headed for a close race in Sunday's elections, final polls suggested Friday as analysts predicted a hung parliament and fresh protests in the EU's poorest country.

According to eight new opinion surveys, former bodyguard ex-premier Boyko Borisov's GERB party is forecast to be the top vote-getter, only three months after resigning amid Bulgaria's biggest unrest in years.

But his conservative party's projected 29 to 35 percent of the vote is a far cry from the 39.7 percent that the charismatic Borisov scored in 2009 and well short of the level needed for a governing majority.

Moreover, the main opposition socialist BSP is snapping at his heels, with the polls giving the leftist party support of 25.0 and 32.3 percent, with some putting BSP neck-and-neck with GERB. Gallup has even predicted the left might win.

"The correlation of forces between the two key political opponents has practically been evened out," Mediana analyst Kolyo Kolev said.

"This spells serious problems to the formation of a working parliamentary majority and government."

Party leaders on Friday meanwhile made their final appeals for support, with Socialist leader and former premier Sergey Stanishev promising to start reducing poverty with a technocrat cabinet of broad parliamentary support.

"Only the BSP can guarantee that GERB will be ousted from power for good," he told a crowd of supporters clutching red balloons and chanting "Victory!" in central Sofia.

"A party is a party to be autonomous. Let us see who enters parliament... and see if we can form a government. If not, we will return the mandate," Borisov meanwhile told private bTV television.

In an interview with the Presa daily, he highlighted "economic growth" and "highways" as his priorities, adding that "tackling poverty will come as a result."

"I am also ready to go in opposition," the karate champion added.

If the polls are confirmed on Sunday, this would force both main parties to go fishing for partners in a severely fragmented legislature that might include between three and five other parties.

Borisov's previous government was four seats short of a majority, depending on other parties for support on a case-by-case basis. But the shortfall is expected to be much larger this time.

The ultra-nationalist Ataka party that used to back the Borisov cabinet is seen garnering between 6.0 and 9.0 percent, compared with 9.4 percent in 2009.

The Socialists' former coalition partner -- the liberal Turkish minority MRF party -- is credited with between 8.3 and 15 percent.

"At least a three-party coalition will be needed to form a government," Yuliy Pavlov from the Centre for Analysis and Marketing said.

A potential kingmaker could be the new centrist formation DBG of ex-European commissioner Meglena Kuneva, although it is unclear whom -- if anyone -- Kuneva might support.

Polls give the party between 3.0 and 6.5 percent. It needs four percent to enter parliament.

Any political stalemate may reignite the angry and sometimes violent nationwide winter protests that saw six people die after setting themselves on fire in the former communist country of 7.4 million people.

Attention during the election campaign on the issues that sparked the demos -- grinding poverty levels and corruption -- has been taken away by a major wiretapping scandal, deepening voter apathy and disillusionment.

Worries about election irregularities meanwhile has prompted the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to dispatch its biggest monitoring mission to Bulgaria since 1990.

Twelve percent of respondents in a poll by the state NCIOM institute Friday said they were ready to sell their votes, and five opposition parties have commissioned an independent parallel vote count by Austrian agency SORA.