The party of former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boïko Borissov came out on top in the legislative elections on Sunday, according to exit polls, a first place that does not, however, guarantee him a return to power. His conservative Gerb formation collected around 25 % of the vote, ahead of “Let’s continue the change” (CC) of his centrist rival Kiril Petkov (around 19%), according to figures given by several institutes. This is the fourth time in 18 months that Bulgarians have been called to elect their Parliament – a period of political instability unprecedented since the end of communism in 1989. They did so without conviction – the turnout rate is historically low (25% at 4:00 p.m.), as in November 2021 – and in a climate morose, with the approach of a winter darkened by soaring prices and the war in Ukraine. To read also Moscow stops its gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria If endemic corruption occupied the debates of the last legislative elections, economic insecurity has this time dominated the campaign, while inflation is close to 20% in this Balkan country, the poorest in the European Union. At the opening of the polls in Sofia, Krasimira Velkova, economist of 64 years old, confided his fears. “People worry about inflation, that a shopping cart costs a fortune. The difference compared to last year is dizzying,” she said. “How are we going to get through the winter, endure the cold, pay our bills?” Asks the sixty-something. “A lesser evil” With his experience of a decade in power, Boïko Borissov, 63, promised throughout the campaign to overcome “chaos”. “We need people who have the bottle in these troubled times. Father Boïko, we can blame him for things but it’s a lesser evil, ”said Bogomil Grouev, a 62-year-old mechanic. Another voter, Rada Mintcheva, says she appreciates the fact that he knows how to handle both Russian and Western interests. “War is very close to us, it is better not to provoke anyone,” explains this 47-year-old nurse. But the image of the colossus Borissov is tarnished. Harassed in the summer of 2020 by massive protests against corruption, he is isolated within the political class and risks having difficulty finding a partner, analysts point out. On Sunday, the ex-leader again called on other politicians “to reason”, saying he was open to all those who defend “Bulgaria’s place in the EU and NATO”. Fragmented parliamentHis rival Kiril Petkov has already refused any alliance with the one who embodies in his eyes “the corrupt past” of Bulgaria. The 42-year-old Harvard-educated former entrepreneur, who landed on the Bulgarian political scene in 2021, was overthrown last June by a motion of no confidence, ruling for a total of seven months. Ready to continue the work, he had urged the Bulgarians to confirm their choice of “a new, prosperous Bulgaria”. It will not have been completely heard. With its two allies, the Socialists (11%) and Democratic Bulgaria (8%), “they will not have enough deputies to form a government”, analyzes the director of the institute Alpha Research, Boriana Dimitrova, interviewed by AFP. She predicts “long negotiations” and is not optimistic about the prospect of a stable coalition, as the Parliament is “fragmented”. There remains the possibility for Gerb to ally with the Turkish minority party MDL (of 12 at 14%), even with the Vazrajdane (Renaissance) formation, ultra-nationalist and close to the Kremlin (10%). “A mathematically possible but socially unacceptable coalition” because of the strong divergences between these three forces, underlines Boriana Dimitrova. There is however urgency, because these serial crises are blocking reforms, slowing down growth and accelerating the exodus of young people from this country which has already lost a tenth of its population in a decade.