SOFIA -- In what would be seen as a major upset, exit polls are indicating a newly formed anti-graft party could defeat the ruling GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Bulgaria’s general election.
Official results have yet to be released, but an exit poll published by Alpha Research on November 14 indicated that We Continue the Change, a party led by two Harvard-educated former businessmen, had won 26.3 percent of the vote.
Exit polls gave Borisov's GERB 23.2 percent. The first exit polls released after voting stations closed at 8 p.m. had given GERB a slight lead over We Continue the Change.
Other exit polls set out similar results.
Five other parties are said to have made it into the 240-seat chamber. They include the Socialist Party, the ethnic Turkish MRF party, the anti-elite There is Such a People party, the liberal anti-corruption group Democratic Bulgaria , and the nationalist Revival party.
Official figures are scheduled to be released starting on November 15, although it could take days before final results are known.
Final turnout figures were not yet released, although local media estimated it at 40 percent. The Central Election Commission said the figure was about 26 percent by 4 p.m., lower than in previous elections.
The leader of the We Continue the Change movement expressed confidence of victory which, if confirmed, would represent a major surprise in the Balkan nation of some 7 million people.
Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev formed the anti-graft movement in September following massive street protests against corruption earlier this year.
"Bulgaria is taking a new path," Petkov said after polls closed.
"Left, center, or right, it doesn't matter," said the 41-year-old Petkov.
"If we can stop [corruption] and redistribute money for the well-being of the taxpayers, then we should be able to come to an agreement with several parties," he added.
The movement said that Petkov will be the candidate for prime minister while Vassilev would likely be nominated for the finance minister post.
"I do not know a more prepared person in Bulgaria than Assen Vassilev for finance minister," Petkov told Bulgarian TV.
Petkov has said his movement was willing to partner with all parties that would join the fight against corruption in the European Union member nation.
“We will be the No. 1 political force,” Petkov said.
“We will have a majority of 121 MPs in the 240-seat parliament, and Bulgaria will have a regular coalition Cabinet.”
Failure to form a government could slow Bulgaria’s plan to adopt the euro currency by 2024 and delay measures to soften the impact of high energy costs on consumers this winter.
A member of both NATO and the EU, Bulgaria has been plagued by rampant corruption since overthrowing communism more than three decades ago. It is the EU's poorest member and routinely comes in at the bottom of the bloc for perceptions of corruption and media freedom.
Borisov, who was at the helm for more than a decade, stepped down as prime minister in April after widespread anti-corruption protests against him and his center-right GERB party, the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria.
That led to two inconclusive parliamentary polls in April and July, prompting this third attempt.
In the race for the largely ceremonial presidency, incumbent Ramun Radev was favored to win a second five-year term.
The Gallup International exit poll suggested that incumbent Radev has a commanding lead but may still have to face runner-up Anastas Gerdzhikov in a runoff on November 21 as voter turnout remained below the needed 50 percent.
With reporting by AFP and AP