By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Europe Bureau Chief
SOFIA, BULGARIA (Worthy News) -- Bulgaria's main center-right opposition party said Monday, July 6, it would launch coalition talks after winning the country's first parliamentary elections since it joined the European Union in 2007. The governing Socialists were defeated following several corruption scandals and concerns over the economy.
Bulgaria's next prime minister is expected to be Sofia mayor and former bodyguard Boiko Borisov, who has been nicknamed 'Badman', after the famous cartoon character, because of his tough talk on the country's endemic corruption.
With most votes counted, Borisov's center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party (GERB) is expected to receive about 120 parliamentary seats, but one seat short of a majority.
The 50-year-old Borisov has told reporters he wants to start talks later Monday with at least one smaller party on forming a coalition that he says will tackle corruption and the ailing economy.
Negotiations are also expected with the Blue Coalition, a grouping of rightist parties, which has received about 16 seats.
In addition, Borisov has pledged to end ethnic tensions in the troubled country. "We want to treat equally both Christians and Muslims and all ethnic groups who live in Bulgaria," he said. "Anyone who raises the question of Bulgaria's ethnic map works against democracy and the Bulgarian citizens."
Borisov's center-right party defeated the ruling Socialist-led coalition, which has been plagued by corruption scandals . Even Sunday's ballot was overshadowed by reports of vote buying.
Last year the European Union froze about 500 million euros, or $800 million, in aid for the Balkan nation of nearly eight million people.
With his party set to pick up just over 40 of Parliament's 240 seats, the embattled Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev has admitted defeat at a news conference.
"Regarding the results, I respect the choice of the Bulgarian citizens," he said. "The results mean hardship and a serious loss for the coalition and the Bulgarian Socialist Party."
Yet, Bulgaria's incoming government leader has his work already cut out for him. The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, recently lifted a suspension of some 115 million euros, or $160 million, for a highway project and technical assistance.
But the commissioner for regional policy, Danuta Hubner, warned that Bulgaria has to do more to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
"This decision [to lift the suspension] is also on our side a strong encouragement for Bulgaria to strengthen and to extend the efforts in all areas where funds are still suspended," she added. "And that we have for the future a system that is protecting also the EU funding from any improper or irregular use. "
Analysts say the new government must also quickly tackle economic policy issues to attract investors, many of whom fled this year, in part because of the global financial crisis.
Borisov has promised to address the economic troubles, and talks are expected with the International Monetary Fund on a loan arrangement for the EU's poorest nation. (Part of this Worthy News' story also airs on the Voice of America (VOA) network).