* Centre-right victory tinged by Socialist surge
* GERB party may seek coalition with nationalist alliance
* United Patriots to test GERB campaign promises
By Tsvetelia Tsolova
SOFIA, March 27 Bulgaria's centre-right GERB
party faced the prospect on Monday of lengthy coalition talks
after an election victory tinged by the strong showing of
pro-Russian Socialists and anti-migrant nationalists.
GERB leader Boiko Borisov, 57, whose resignation late last
year triggered the snap election, was due to chair a meeting of
his party leadership later in the day.
With 99 percent of votes counted, GERB was seen taking 96 of
parliament's 240 seats, leaving it short of a majority and
almost certain to seek a deal with the third-placed United
Patriots, an alliance of three nationalist parties expected to
take 27 seats.
The United Patriots, however, have their own internal rifts
over policy towards Russia and the European Union, complicating
talks. The alliance will drive a hard bargain, given they could
also switch support to the second-placed Socialists, who saw
their own share of seats surge to an expected 79.
The Socialists, capitalising on their victory in a
presidential election in November that triggered Borisov's
downfall, have vowed to improve ties with Russia even at the
expense of EU unity.
"It is possible to make a government with GERB; it is
possible not to," Valeri Simeonov, co-leader of the United
Patriots, told Bulgarian Nova TV on Monday.
"It all depends on whether we can agree on policies. Last
time around it took us about a month."
The United Patriots have capitalised on a growing mood of
nationalism in Bulgaria since hundreds of thousands of migrants
from the Middle East, Asia and Africa began crossing the Balkan
peninsula en route to Western Europe two years ago.
The alliance is staunchly opposed to immigration and has
called for legislation to address crimes committed by Bulgaria's
Roma minority, to increase pensions and keep down electricity
prices. GERB has pledged to maintain the tight fiscal policies
underpinning the lev currency peg to the euro.
A role in government for the United Patriots may also
further worsen Bulgaria’s strained relations with neighbouring
Borisov may also seek to bring the populist Will party,
which is estimated to have won 12 seats, into a three-party
coalition or try to lead a minority government.
Whatever the outcome, analysts were sceptical the election
would produce a stable government – the country's seventh since
2013 – capable of tackling widespread poverty and corruption as
Bulgaria takes on the rotating presidency of the EU in January
"The election did not give a clear mandate for stable,
long-term governance," said Daniel Smilov, a political analyst
with the Sofia-based Centre for Liberal Strategies.
"The next government will have a horizon until July next
year, when the country will hand over the EU rotating
presidency. In terms of reforms, we are likely to see more of
(Editing by Matt Robinson and Janet Lawrence)