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Bulgaria leftists close gap before Sunday election: poll

A man walks past political election posters in central Sofia May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
A man walks past political election posters in central Sofia May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's Socialists are drawing level with the center-right GERB party of former prime minister Boiko Borisov, according to an opinion poll, raising the possibility of prolonged uncertainty over formation of a government after Sunday's parliamentary election.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the country of 7.3 million in anger over corruption, rising unemployment and high utility bills, prompting Borisov's resignation in February. The country has since been run by a caretaker government.

An opinion poll by the private Sova Harris agency put support for GERB at 20.9 percent, apparently hit by a wire tapping scandal that has implicated one of its senior members.

Sova Harris put the Socialists on 20.4 percent, and the split raises questions over governance of the European Union's poorest country, with 43 percent needed for a majority.

The previous Sova Harris poll, conducted in December and before Borisov's resignation, had GERB on 26 percent and the Socialists on 21 percent. The state funded NPOC last month put GERB at 23.6 and the Socialists at 17.7 percent.

GERB has promised to push ahead with austerity policies that, along with anger over corruption, a concern shared by the European Union, stirred this year's protests

The Socialists, for their part, have promised to create 250,000 jobs, bring unemployment down from an eight-year high and cut taxes for low earners.

GERB is opposed to any coalition deal and while the Socialists have previously worked with a smaller party, the ethnic Turkish MRF, the two together may still fall short of a majority.

A fourth party, the nationalist Attack, which has previously worked with GERB on an unofficial basis, should also enter parliament but its anti-EU, Roma and Turkish rhetoric might limit its appeal as a coalition partner.

"None of the political parties will be able to form its own government," said Sova Harris's director Vasil Tonchev.

The fall in GERB's fortunes appeared linked to accusations its second most senior politician Tsvetan Tsvetanov had allowed employees in his ministry to commit crimes involving tapping phones.

The poll, conducted between May 2 and May 7 among 1,200 people, showed 15.2 percent of respondents did not plan to vote and just over 16 percent were undecided, making the final division of parliamentary seats difficult to predict.

It showed MRF with 5.2 percent and Attack - the biggest beneficiary from the protests - on 4.0 percent, both beating a 4 percent threshold to enter parliament.

"People's dissatisfaction with the political class, the polarized political debate and intense competition between the parties are just some of the ingredients that make the 12 May elections a defining moment in Bulgaria's history," said Eoghan Murphy, an Irish parliamentarian leading the OSCE mission.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov)

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