Czechs head for centre-right coalition government
Centre-right Czech parties advocating austerity to prevent a Greek-style debt crisis beat pro-welfare leftists in an election on Saturday and looked set to form a government aimed at tackling deep economic reforms.
AFP - Czech voters handed centre-right parties a solid majority in the weekend general election, final results showed Saturday, raising hopes that a year of political limbo may be drawing to a close.
The centre-left Social Democrats (CSSD) narrowly placed first, taking 22.1 percent of the vote, according to the Czech Statistical Office.
But the right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS), trailing in second with 20.2 percent, appeared better placed to form a functioning coalition with two new parties, the rightist TOP 09, on 16.7 percent, and centrist Public Affairs on 10.9 percent.
The three were likely to command 118 seats in the 200-seat parliament.
Saturday night it remained unclear who would take the helm as prime minister.
ODS leader Petr Necas and the CSSD's first deputy chairman Bohuslav Sobotka were waiting for a call from right-wing President Vaclav Klaus with a request to begin forming a government.
Klaus said before the vote he would ask the winning party's chairman to try to form a government, but then changed his tune after seeing the results on Saturday.
"I think it will be this way, but we all well know that it may get tangled up. We'll see who will be second, third, fourth, and at what strength," he said.
The only other leftist party to make it into the parliament was the Communists, but nobody wants to make a political alliance with the party that ruled in the former Czechoslovakia until the Iron Curtain fell in 1989.
The central European country has been living in a political limbo for more than a year, led by a non-partisan caretaker government since an ODS-led centre-right government collapsed in March 2009.
"It's a bitter victory for the Social Democrats," political analyst Michal Klima from the Metropolitan University in Prague said in Czech Television's special election studio.
Campaigning on promises of generous social spending, the CSSD was tipped as the clear winner before the vote with 30 percent voter support in opinion polls.
But the 62.6 percent of registered voters who cast ballots seemed to have deserted it in favour of the new right-of-centre parties vowing fiscal responsibility.
"It's the phenomenon of these elections that people preferred smaller parties. It's a trend," said CSSD chairman Jiri Paroubek.
"It's certainly not a success," he added before announcing he would step down in the next "seven to ten days" and pass the chairmanship to his deputy Sobotka.
President Klaus also pointed out the success of TOP 09 and Public Affairs at the expense of the mainstream parties.
"It was clear that this election will mean a fundamental weakening of these two large parties. That's the basic result of this vote," he told reporters.
Voters seemed to have been convinced by the austerity plans proposed by right-wing candidates, who pointed at the crisis in Greece and the eurozone as a warning sign for the Czech Republic unless it tames its public spending.
"Our key topic is the long-term stabilisation of public finances and structural reforms, above all of pensions and health-care," ODS leader Necas told AFP before the vote, slamming the Social Democrats' promises.
"The election result will get a favourable response on financial markets and among economists," David Marek, an analyst with Patria Finance in Prague, told AFP.
"We can see a chance the new team will push through the long-postponed health care and pension reforms, which are a necessary prerequisite for a long-term sustainability of public finances," he added.