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Former king seeks Bulgaria coalition

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Simeon II has pledged a path of renovation  


SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Bulgaria's former king is searching for a coalition ally after his election victory looked set to leave him one vote short of an absolute majority in parliament.

Simeon II is on course to win 121 seats in the 240-member chamber, a member of the Central Electoral Commission told Reuters.

Nikolai Vasilev, head of Simeon's economic team, said a decision on a coalition was a priority and told Reuters: "The basic question for him is to decide whether he will become prime minister or not."

Vasilev had said on Sunday that it was equally likely that Simeon would either become prime minister or remain behind the scenes.

Ambassador Charles Magee, head of the election observers mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said Sunday's election had been a success.

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With 99.9 percent of the votes counted, an electoral commission spokeswoman said Simeon's party looked set to win 121 seats.

"One mandate more, one mandate less is not really significant because our position in principle is that there should be a coalition," Miroslav Sevlievski, one of Simeon's top aides, told Reuters.

The centre-right UDF party of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov looked set to win 51 seats, three more than the Socialist Party of ex-communists.

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The Bulgarian ethnic Turks Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), which is expected to strike a coalition deal with the former monarch, was poised to win 21 seats.

Simeon has said he supports a broad coalition government with those who shared his priorities -- which include speedy economic growth, a drive to join the European Union and NATO, and a fight against corruption.

"After today, Bulgaria is different," Simeon told a news conference. "Together, we are embarking on a path of economic and moral renovation. It will not be an easy one, there will be many obstacles, but we will not give up."

Aged 64, Simeon became the first ex-monarch to regain political power in a former East European communist state although he did not run for parliament himself.

Kostov hinted he may step down as UDF leader, telling a news conference: "We have taken a lot of unpopular decisions and also made mistakes. We wanted the voter to pay a higher price than he was prepared to pay."

Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov congratulated Simeon's movement and advocated a wide coalition.

"We have not yet crossed the deep river of reforms. The burden has to be carried on many shoulders," he said.

The former king returned to Bulgaria in 1998 and formed the party bearing his name in April.

He had been deposed in 1946 after a referendum that declared Bulgaria a republic, and he fled to Egypt with his mother and then to Madrid, where he worked as a businessman and lived in exile for 55 years.





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