Boyko Borrisov, the mayor of Sofia who is also GERB's leader, is poised to become prime minister for a new centre-right coalition following the weekend poll.
With 99.88% of the ballot counted, GERB won 39.82% of the vote in parliamentary elections. GERB will have 116 MPs in the 240-seat parliament.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party, led by outgoing Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, was second with 17.86%, followed by its coalition partner, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), with 14.19%.
Ultra-nationalist party Ataka was fourth with 9.38% and the centre-right 'Blue Coalition' won 6.73%. The Order, Law and Justice Party won enough votes to enter parliament, with 4.18%.
The National Movement for Stability and Progress (NDSV), the third partner in the ruling coalition, only got 3.23% and will not enter parliament. The threshold for parliamentary representation in Bulgaria is 4%.
Borissov's party is expected to forge a coalition with the so-called 'Blue Coalition', a group of battered politicians from the post-1989 anti-Communist forces, or with the Order, Law and Justice Party, analysts said.
GERB is also poised to take 28 of the 31 'individual' seats in the 240-member parliament, a novelty in Bulgarian politics as voters were called to cast a ballot for party lists as well as individual candidates for the first time.
The turnout of over 60.2% was much higher than the 43% in the European elections held last month. At the 2005 parliamentary elections, turnout was 55.8%.
Fireman and former bodyguard
Borrisov is often portrayed as the 'saviour of the country', a status which often gives its holder the reigns of power. In a similar way, Bulgarians voted massively for Simeon Saxe-Cobourg Gotha, the infant king of Bulgaria from 1943 to 1946, who returned in 2001 and promised them a bright future. At that time, NDSV obtained 42.7% and 119 seats in Parliament.
Borrisov is seen as a 'self-made man'. A fireman by trade and a karate expert, in the early 1990s he founded his own firm, Ipon, providing security services to VIPs. A famous client of his was former Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, who was then under home arrest. Borissov kept good personal relations with Zhivkov until his death in 1998, and repeatedly said he had "learned a lot" from him.
Later, he provided security services free of charge to Simeon Saxe-Cobourg Gotha after his return to Bulgaria from exile. A few months later, Simeon, in his new capacity as prime minister, appointed Borissov as chief secretary in the Interior Ministry.
In this position, Borissov became a hero of the Bulgarian media, fighting crime and calling reporters at crime scene locations himself via mobile phone. Some claimed that by bringing journalists before the investigators, evidence had been destroyed. Nevertheless, Borissov became extremely popular at that time.
Ever since, this popularity has only grown, and so has the collection of jokes in which he is depicted as Superman.
Borissov speaks no foreign languages, but uses the 'language of the streets', much to the delight of an audience disgusted by the artificial speech of the mainstream political class.
Borissov shares his private life with Tzvetelina Borisslavova, the daughter of a modest embassy employee, who later became president of the advisory council of SiBank, part of the KBC group, and now owns a considerable personal fortune.
Ethnic Turkish leader 'shocks with arrogance'
Arrogant remarks made during the campaign by the leader of the mainly ethnic Turkish party DPS Ahmed Dogan motivated the "passive electorate" to vote this time, analysts said. During the campaign, Dogan said that it was him who was in fact ruling the country, and also indicated that he was able to channel EU funds to friends, in return for political support.
Indeed, DPS is widely perceived as corrupt. However, media reports have almost never triggered legal inquiries, nurturing suspicions that coalition members were turning a blind eye to their partners' misbehaviour.
The statements by Dogan unleashed a series of angry comments on social-networking websites, and also in the press. But the outrage did not penalise the Turkish ethnic party. As BSP spokesperson Kornelia Ninova said, "the anti-DPS sentiments in fact became an anti-BSP vote".
Last December, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso warned Socialist Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev that the EU executive would not tolerate "politics being played" with EU funds in the country (EurActiv 19/12/08). At that time, a Commission spokesperson declined to elaborate upon whether Barroso was referring to DPS, which is widely suspected of redistributing EU funds and projects in party circles.
Vote-buying is a phenomenon already remarked upon by the European Commission in its reports (see EurActiv Links Dossier on the EU elections in Bulgaria). However, this campaign was marked with an unprecedented level of reported vote-buying and vote-rigging revealed by the media, feebly countered by law-enforcement authorities.
In many locations, vulnerable ethnic groups such as the Roma were reportedly paid sums to cast their vote for a certain candidate. Many Roma representatives openly said that they would vote for whoever was willing to "sponsor" their citizen's act.
In some smaller locations, voters were told that they would lose their jobs if a certain political party did not win locally.
Reports also abound of 'voting tourism', whereby voters repeatedly vote in several locations. Tens of thousands of Bulgarian citizens in Turkey were able to vote in 131 sections of that country, prompting suspicions of multiple voting.