Socialists biggest party, but centre-right majority in Czech election
The Social Democrats won the Czech Republic's general election with 22.1 per cent of the vote, but were unlikely to form a government, results showed after 99.9 per cent of votes were counted on Saturday, dpa reported.
The centre-right Civic Democrats trailed behind with 20.2 per cent in a poll that gave them a greater chance to form a centre-right government with other, smaller parties, that could introduce public finance reforms and cut the budget deficit.
Turnout in the two-day poll which concluded Saturday was some 62.6 per cent, according to the Czech Statistics Office.
Overall, Czechs voters punished the big, established parties in the weekend's poll. New, smaller parties which enter parliament for the first time are now likely to be the kingmakers of the upcoming coalition talks.
The Czech Republic, one of the most prosperous and successful of the ex-Soviet satellite communist states, has been governed by a caretaker government for more than a year.
Despite the ostensible victory, the slimness of the margin was a blow to the Social Democrats who were expected to emerge victorious with as much as 30 per cent of the vote, according to recent opinion polls.
Moreover, the leftist parties failed to muster a majority in the 200-seat lower house, as the Communists received only 11.3 per cent of the vote.
Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek conceded a defeat for the left and announced his resignation will be forthcoming in the coming days.
"The interests of ordinary people were defeated in this election," he told a press conference.
"This country is stepping in the way of a right-wing coalition. That is clear," he said earlier in the day. "It appears that people chose a direction in which this country should head and it is a different direction than that offered by the Social Democrats."
Civic Democrat leader Petr Necas congratulated the Social Democrats on their victory but told a press conference that his party was ready to "very intensively, very quickly and very energetically" negotiate with other right-wing parties on "a coalition of budgetary responsibility".
"The voters cast their votes for a speedy halting of further debts," Necas said.
It is up to President Vaclav Klaus to authorize one party leader to form a government.
It is customary that the winner would have the first attempt at coalition talks. The Social Democrats could still attempt to form a government, despite having little chance of success.
Klaus is yet to reveal his intentions. He is likely to prefer a solution that would result in a strong, stable government.
Voters appear to have grown disenchanted with the two biggest political parties and some of their veteran leaders for their bitter squabbles and corruption scandals - whilst new parties showed substantial gains.
"This is perhaps the strongest message of this election. It is a message for the big parties," political scientist Tomas Lebeda told the German Press Agency dpa. Speaking on Czech Television, analyst Michal Klima called it a "civic rebellion".
TOP 09, a new, conservative, free-market party led by popular aristocrat Karel Schwarzenberg, gained 16.7 per cent of the vote after campaigning on fears of Greek-style state debt during an economic slowdown.
Another newcomer, Public Matters, a populist protest party, received 10.9 per cent of votes on a mixed range of promises that included forcing out "political dinosaurs".
The grouping is expected to partner up with the Civic Democrats and TOP 09. The party leader, Radek John, told Czech Television that they were ready to back a coalition aimed at halting debt.
The Christian Democrats and the Greens, the junior governing partners during most of the ending term, failed to clear the 5-per-cent hurdle to enter parliament, earning 4.4 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively. Their leaders resigned.
While the turnout appeared higher than usual with voters crowding some polling stations on Friday and Saturday, the Czech Statistics Office said that some 62.6 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots, compared to 64.5 per cent in 2006.