AFP - Bulgaria's centre-right opposition party GERB claimed victory in the general election Sunday, as exit polls showed a stinging defeat for Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev and his Socialist party.
Speaking after exit polls showed GERB winning 39.7-41.8 percent of the vote and as many as 119 seats in the 240-seat parliament, Borisov told bTV television he had dealt a "smashing, annihilating" defeat to the Socialists, who have ruled for the past four years.
"We have to form a government as soon as possible," Borisov said, adding that he would seek one or more allies from a range of smaller centre-right parties.
Borisov, a former bodyguard with a tough-guy image who has promised to crack down on corruption in the EU's poorest member, said "we'll wait and see what the final results are, and the distribution of parliamentary seats. Then we'll analyse what options we have."
The Socialists conceded defeat after winning just 17.1-18.5 percent of the vote and 39 seats.
Their foreign minister, Ivaylo Kalfin, said: "GERB obviously won a convincing election victory and we have to congratulate them on this."
GERB's most likely partner, the Blue Coalition of two small UDF and DSB parties, secured 6.4-8.2 percent of votes and 14 seats.
Another possible ally for GERB, the right-wing Order, Lawfulness, Justice party secured 4.1-4.6 percent and 10 seats.
In the run-up to vote, Borisov had been openly sceptical about any power-sharing deals, saying smaller coalition partners could seek to hold GERB hostage.
But faced with no clear majority to govern alone, he said he would invite them for talks Sunday.
"I hope that the smaller parties will remember that people put their trust in us and so we'll be the ones to shoulder (the main) responsibility" in the government," he said.
The first partial official results are expected early Monday with a final count due later this week.
Analysts said that if the results were confirmed, a hung parliament and post-election stalemate will have been avoided.
"GERB will not be able to form a government on its own, but will manage with one or two smaller allies," said Gallup analyst Andrey Raychev.
The leaders of the smaller right-wing parties congratulated GERB and urged it to take the support they were offering.
Yane Yanev, the leader of the OLJ (Order, Lawfulness, Justice) party said: "We will not necessarily seek ministerial jobs in the next government. We are happy being in the legislature. But we will support a government led by GERB."
With 6.8 million Bulgarians eligible to vote, turnout was 60.2 percent, up from 55.76 percent in 2005.
The new government faces daunting challenges: the economic crisis and Bulgaria's image of being the EU's most corruption-ridden member.
Indeed, vote-buying allegations marred the election itself, despite a huge awareness campaign and the introduction of heavy fines and jail terms for people found guilty of accepting or offering bribes for votes.
A new phenomenon this time around was the number of suspected criminals, some already on trial, who ran for parliament.
Taking advantage of the country's immunity laws, which automatically suspend any court proceedings for political candidates until the end of their term in office if elected, a number of businessmen with dubious reputations vied to become lawmakers.
One such example were the so-called Galev brothers, Plamen Galev and Angel Hristov. Both are under investigation for racketeering, but were released from custody as soon as they registered as candidates.
It was not yet clear whether either of them had actually managed to be elected.
The OSCE sent observers to monitor the vote for the first time in years.