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Bulgaria faced fresh political uncertainty Monday after ex-premier Boyko Borisov fell way short of a majority in elections held three months after mass demonstrations forced his government to resign.
After a tense campaign marked by allegations of vote-rigging, Borisov's conservative GERB party came first with 30.71 percent of the vote, according to official results with 96 percent of ballots counted.
But analysts predicted that the 53-year-old will fail to convince any of the other three parties that won seats to enter into a GERB-led coalition to run the EU's poorest country.
"This is goodbye for GERB. They will not govern the country," Gallup analyst Kancho Stoychev said, adding that a scandal-ridden campaign and allegations of election fraud had put GERB in "total isolation."
While GERB saw its share of the vote slide around eight percentage points from the last election in 2009, the opposition socialist BSP party received 27.02 percent, up 10 percentage points.
The only other parties to win enough votes to enter parliament are the Turkish minority MRF party with 10.59 percent and the ultra-nationalist Ataka on 7.38 percent.
Ataka, Borisov's most likely partner, late on Sunday ruled out backing a GERB cabinet.
"This is the first time since the end of communism that an outgoing party wins the next election," Yuliy Pavlov from the Centre for Analysis and Marketing told private TV7.
"And for the first time the winning party cannot govern as it is in total isolation."
If Borisov fails to form a government, the mandate will pass to the socialists, who have already said they were ready to seek broad consensus for an anti-crisis cabinet of technocrats, possibly headed by an ex-finance minister, Plamen Oresharski.
"The next PM's name is Plamen Oresharski," predicted Pavlov.
"Slowly and painfully Bulgaria is getting rid of GERB and this is a healing process. It is clear that GERB will not be able to form a government and this is good for Bulgaria," Socialist leader Sergey Stanishev said late Sunday.
He urged "quick talks with all parties except GERB on a programme for taking the country out of the crisis ... and calming social tensions."
The maverick Borisov has not spoken publicly since the election.
A demonstration involving around 150 people shouting "Mafia" and throwing stones late Sunday gave a stark reminder that many Bulgarians remain deeply unhappy with the country's political class.
During January and February tens of thousands of people took to the streets around the country angry about rising poverty, corruption and falling living standards six years after EU membership, prompting Borisov to resign.
Bulgaria's winter of discontent saw seven people set themselves on fire, six of whom died.
"The vote is on track to repeat the previous parliament of the oligarchy and mafia that we forced out. We'll have barricades this time not just protests," one of the organisers of the rallies Angel Slavchev said.
Almost a quarter of Bulgarians lives below the official poverty line. The economy grew just 0.8 percent in 2012 and foreign investment has slumped. Unemployment is almost 20 percent, according to unofficial estimates.
Monthly public sector salaries in the Balkan country, sandwiched between Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Romania and the Black Sea, are frozen at 400 euros ($520) and pensions at 138 euros.
"These people reduced us to beggars. They ruined the country," Ivan, a taxi driver in his 50s, told AFP early Monday.
"I hope whatever government is formed will make a strong start to address what's most pressing -- poverty, low incomes and unemployment -- and win people's trust."
Five opposition parties -- excluding GERB -- have commissioned an independent vote count by Austrian agency SORA, vowing to challenge the vote in the event of major discrepancies.
Partial SORA results Monday, based on 5,299 constituencies, however also gave GERB the lead, with 31.1 percent, followed by the BSP with 27.1 percent, the MRF with 8.9 percent and Ataka with 7.5 percent.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent its biggest monitoring mission to Bulgaria since its first post-communism elections in 1990, was due to report its findings later Monday.