Bulgaria's former prime minister has said he will try to form a government and avoid national "bankruptcy" after his right-wing party came first in elections but fell well short of a majority.

Boyko Borisov, who had to resign a year earlier due to nationwide protests, called on other party leaders on Sunday to take time to think "carefully" before ruling out working with him.

"I am ready to take all the risks to govern the country. I call on the other party leaders to reflect calmly tonight, to leave it a couple of days and not to make any categorical declarations," said the former bodyguard and karate black belt.

The alternative, he said, would be "new elections" and "bankruptcy" for the European Union's poorest country.

Sunday's election for Bulgaria's third government in less than two years saw Borisov's GERB party come out on top, but with only about 33 percent of the vote and 82-90 seats in the 240-seat parliament - well short of the 121 seats needed for an absolute majority, exit polls showed.

In second place were the Socialists with about 15 percent and 36-42 seats, followed by the Turkish minority party MRF with 35-39 seats. Both parties backed the previous technocrat government that collapsed in July.

Reducing the number of seats for the big parties, and making the formation of a government even more difficult, four or so other parties looked to have cleared the four-percent hurdle to enter what will be a highly fragmented parliament.

The new government, assuming it can be formed, will have its work cut out putting the country back on track.

The average monthly salary is the equivalent of $500, and seven years after joining the EU every fifth household lives below the poverty line.

Economic growth is sluggish and there are major worries about the country's financial system, with tens of thousands of customers at the fourth-largest bank unable to withdraw funds since June because it is under investigation.

Undermining faith in democracy in the former communist - and earning it criticism from Brussels - is the perception that a well-connected clique are still lining their pockets and are above the law.

Source: Agencies