Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's centre-right GERB party came first in the weekend's parliamentary elections, partial results showed Monday, but with protest parties surging it has no clear partner to form a governing coalition.
With GERB undermined by scandals and protests after nearly a decade in power, it won just 25.9 percent of Sunday's vote.
After it became clear that Borisov faced a difficult task ahead to form a government, he pitched himself as a leader representing stability.
"You won't make it on your own... let's unite," he said in a live broadcast on Facebook Sunday night.
"Do you have someone more experienced than me?" he asked.
He also suggested a cabinet of experts "to get out of the pandemic" after an election held at the peak of the country's third coronavirus wave.
Analysts predicted an uphill battle for Borisov to cobble together a new coalition after an unexpectedly strong performance by new populist and anti-government protest parties.
"The results show the profound fragmentation of society," political analyst Antony Galabov said.
"No clear majority is in view and GERB owes its win only on voters' concern for stability."
- 'Fragmented parliament' -
The new populist party There is Such a Nation of entertainer-turned-politician Slavi Trifonov came in a surprise second with 18.4 percent of the vote, according to Monday's official partial results.
The traditional main opposition Socialist party received a mere 14.9 percent.
Several other parties appear set to enter the 240-seat parliament, including two which led massive anti-government protests last summer, accusing Borisov of protecting oligarchs.
They are the right-wing Democratic Bulgaria coalition, which won around 10 percent of the vote, while new leftist coalition Stand up! Mafia out! -- which is close to President Rumen Radev, a sharp critic of Borisov -- took nearly five percent.
The kingmaker in a number of previous Bulgarian governments, the Turkish minority Movement for Rights and Freedoms party, came fifth with nine percent.
GERB's current coalition partners VMRO meanwhile failed to pass the four-percent threshold to enter parliament.
"Politicians now have to show wisdom because in this fragmented parliament it would be difficult to form a government if they don't show political will, desire and vision," 67-year-old software engineer Lyubomir Tsekov told AFP Monday in the capital Sofia, adding he hoped to avoid new elections.
Some elderly voters were puzzled by the rise of Trifonov, who has been quite popular for many years but mostly as a singer and talk show host.
"I have no opinion of Trifonov as a politician, he is just a showman! I don't know what to expect," 64-year-old Violeta Mihaylova said, adding that she was disappointed with the election results.