Bulgaria's long-serving Prime Minister Boyko Borissov won a national election on Sunday, exit polls showed, and he is now likely to face complex coalition talks to secure another four-year mandate in the European Union's poorest member state.
Exit polls showed Borissov's centre-right GERB will be the largest party in parliament, winning around 25% of the vote, compared with the 33.5% it won four years ago.
After a decade of dominating Bulgarian politics, Borissov has few natural coalition partners in a fragmented legislature, with most groupings rejecting direct cooperation with GERB.
Weeks of talks, or even another election, cannot be ruled out, meaning Bulgaria may have difficulty tapping the EU's 750 billion euro ($884 billion) Recovery Fund aimed at helping rebuild economies across the bloc after the coronavirus pandemic.
A former fireman and bodyguard, Borissov, 61, sought to showcase his successes in modernising Bulgaria's creaking infrastructure in a low-key campaign after massive anti-graft rallies last summer eroded his popularity.
Complicating his coalition-building options is the emergence of the anti-establishment There is Such a People party of popular TV host and singer Slavi Trifonov, which came in second according to a Gallup International poll on 17.1%.
A poll by Alpha Research put Trifonov third on 15.2% and the opposition Socialists second with 17.6%. Gallup found GERB had won 25%, while Alpha research put it slightly higher at 25.7%
Trifonov, 54, whose concerts peppered with patriotic songs have attracted thousands, has ruled out governing with either GERB or the Socialists.