Czechs begin voting in Senate run-off elections

Other News Materials 24 October 2008 17:40 (UTC +04:00)

Czechs began voting Friday in Senate run-off elections that have become a key test for Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek ahead of his country's EU presidency in the first half of next year, reproted dpa.

The run-offs came a week after Topolanek's senior ruling Civic Democrats lost a regional election to their arch-rivals, the main opposition Social Democratic Party.

The weakened premier hoped to mitigate the defeat in the run-offs ending Saturday.

To focus on political hurdles at home, Topolanek, one of the most pro-US leaders in eastern Europe, decided to cancel next week's US trip, including a White House visit with US President George W Bush, his spokeswoman said.

Voters began picking 26 senators for the 81-seat upper house, mostly in races between Topolanek's party and the Social Democrats. One race was already decisively won by a Social Democrat candidate in the first round last week.

Twenty Civic Democratic candidates were running this week, all but one against Social Democratic challengers, who figure in 25 races.

The Civic Democratic absolute majority in the upper house was at stake as Topolanek's party headed into the run-offs with 41 seats, while the Social Democrats held 14.

The premier is fighting for political survival as the Czech Republic prepares to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the 27-member European Union on January 1.

Topolanek's opponents within his party, led by Prague Mayor Pavel Bem, have said they want to see the run-off score before deciding whether to attack their leader at a party congress in December.