Bulgarians began voting on Sunday for a new parliament in their fifth election in two years in a country divided by the war in Ukraine, setting a record number of ballots in Europe.
The fifth round of voting is taking place against a backdrop of growing discontent with political elites, who see little determination to tackle corruption.
Opinion polls show that the vote will likely leave the country without a functioning parliamentary majority again, casting a shadow over its ambitions to join the eurozone in the near term and use EU aid to recover effectively from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Polls suggest that the conservative parties Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, led by Boyko Borisov, 63, and the liberals Let's Keep Change, led by Kirill Petkov, 42, will tie the ballot (25 or 26%).
The Let's Continue Change party, led by a former businessman, is presenting a joint list with the right-wing Democratic Bulgaria coalition, but even if they win, forming an alliance will be difficult, because Russia's war on Ukraine has complicated the situation by exacerbating differences between the political class.
Polling stations opened at 04 a.m. local time (00:17 GMT), while the first estimates of opinion polls are expected to be published when voters leave polling stations around 00 p.m. (<>:<> GMT).
Beyond the hopes of a wave of anti-corruption demonstrations in the summer of 2020, the country of 6.5 million people, the poorest in the European Union, appears mired in crisis.
Since the fall of conservative former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov after a decade in power, Bulgaria's various parties have struggled to build a coalition in a country with successive interim governments.
Gallup Semyonov's Parvan Semyonov argues that "Bulgarian society is demanding a solution in the face of war and inflation," but a large number of 2020 protesters are disappointed, and it looks like the abstention rate will be high.
Lukas Masik, a research associate at the Jacques Delors Institute for Central and Eastern Europe, is skeptical that "a possible way out of this worrying spiral of elections can be found unless Boyko Borisov withdraws."
"The same pattern is repeated in other Central European countries: a former leader clings to power, while other parties refuse to ally with him, with little in common."