The conservative GERB party of Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria's former prime minister, has received the most votes in the weekend's parliamentary elections, but has fallen far short of a majority and is lacking coalition options.
The party, which won 31.4 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, will have first chance to form a government. The opposition socialist party BSP won 27.34 percent of the votes.
However, GERB is struggling to find partners, with its image tarnished by nationwide protests and allegations of illegal activity.
Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull, reporting from Sofia, said Borisov must enter coaltion talks and the results must be converted to a governing majority. But he said that two parties are unwilling to support GERB, and if BSP cannot form a government either, then Bulgaria may be forced back to the polls.
The inconclusive vote means more political uncertainty and tension in the EU's poorest country, where massive anti-poverty and anti-corruption demonstrations forced Borisov from office at the end of February.
Only two other parties entered the 240-seat legislature - the Turkish minority MRF party with 9.15 percent and the ultra-nationalist Ataka party with 7.6 percent, the results showed.
Ataka on Sunday night ruled out joining a GERB-led government.
If the conservatives fail to form a ruling coalition, the mandate will pass to the Socialists, who have already said they are ready to seek broad consensus for an anti-crisis cabinet of technocrats, possibly headed by former finance minister, Plamen Oresharski.
Six years after joining the EU, many of Bulgaria's 7.3 million people are angry about low living standards and fraud, revealing the risk of trouble in fringe states as the eurozone focuses on its own woes.
Borisov made no remarks after the vote but former Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, ranked second in the party, said: "GERB will be responsible to the nation. [Borisov] is capable of proposing and forming a government - it could be a minority one."
Our correspondent said that so far there has been no major scramble for power and no victory speeces, adding that Borisov has been uncharacteristically quiet.
|Bulgarians await election results
Borisov resigned from office during protests against low living standards and corruption, when seven people set themselves on fire, and the unclear election result raises questions over Bulgaria's economic policy and may require another poll, possibly in September.
Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev, certain that GERB would not be able to form a government, said the party was ready to hold talks with the MRF, Ataka and citizens' organisations to form a programme cabinet to avoid fresh protests.
"The first task is to get GERB out of power," Stanishev said. "We will start talks with the first two parties that will enter the parliament."
"We will take the responsibility to form a government. We will also talk with different citizens' organisation and help citizens controls over institutions.
"I will make sure that talks with other parties and citizens organisations [are] held transparently."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies