(Reuters) - Bulgarians will vote on Sunday in the European Union country's ninth general election since the fall of communism in 1989.
Led by a former bodyguard and karate expert, the centre right GERB party is expected to win but fall short of a majority, which could spark a period of haggling with smaller parties and the opposition to shore up support.
GEOGRAPHY: Bordered to the north by Romania, to the east by the Black Sea, to the south by Turkey and Greece, to the west by Serbia and Macedonia
POPULATION: 7.3 million, according to the statistics office
ETHNICITY: 84.8 percent ethnic Bulgarians, 8.8 percent ethnic Turks, 4.9 percent Roma. (2011 census)
RELIGION: Christian Orthodox (80 percent), Muslim (12 percent).
LANGUAGE: The official language is Bulgarian.
Apart from GERB, the Socialists, the ethnic Turkish MRF party, the right-wing Reformist Bloc, the populist Bulgaria Without Censorship party look certain to beat the 4 percent threshold to enter parliament. The nationalist Patriotic Front and the Attack party, as well as the left-wing ABV could also win seats.
About 6,000 candidates, grouped in 19 parties and 6 coalitions, as well as three independent candidates, are vying for seats in the 240-member parliament. There are 11,729 polling stations, including 428 abroad. Polls will open at 6 a.m. (04:00 a.m. BST) and will close at 7 p.m. (17:00 p.m. BST).
HOW A GOVERNMENT IS FORMED
Final results, including seat allocation, are expected to be announced on Oct. 8. President Rosen Plevneliev then has 30 days to convene parliament, after which he will begin consultations and give the leading party a mandate to form a government.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by Matthias Williams)