Bulgaria has seized 350,000 fake ballot papers, prosecutors said on Saturday, a day before a parliamentary election that is likely to deliver no party a majority and more political turmoil in the EU's poorest country.
Prosecutors said the ballots were found at a printing house owned by the company of a local councilor from the centre-right GERB whose government resigned from office during protests against low living standards and corruption in February, but which still has a narrow lead in opinion polls.
"Over 350,000 printed ballots, that were ready for use in the parliamentary elections, were found in stores of a printing house in Kostinbrod," the prosecuting office in the capital, Sofia, said in a statement about Friday's seizure.
The interim government, which took over after GERB Prime Minister Boiko Borisov resigned, said it had received all 8.34 million ballots it had ordered and distributed them to polling stations already.
The owner of the printing shop based near Sofia, councilor Yordan Bonchev, denied any wrongdoing and said it had a license to print ballots, which the government confirmed.
President Rosen Plevneliev said he expected the Central Election Commission to respond "to ensure the lawful democratic elections, including taking emergency measures if necessary", without giving details.
GERB called for an immediate halt to "speculation and political persuasion" on a day when campaigning was banned, but the accusation is likely to further dismay a population fed up with corruption, organized crime and low living standards.
Bulgaria struggles to supply running water and reliable electricity to some of its citizens, 2 million of whom have left since the 1989 fall of communism. In rural areas, many villages are run down and populated only by the elderly.
After a campaign marred by a wiretapping scandal, in which prosecutors said a senior GERB member had allowed ministry employees to commit crimes, and more mud-slinging than debate about policy, coalition talks are expected to be difficult and that may raise questions over governance and economic policy.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is monitoring the election and five parties - including the Socialists but not GERB - have organized a parallel vote count by an Austrian company, saying they are worried about possible fraud. (read on)