Leftist opposition wins majority in Czech Senate

Leftist opposition wins majority in Czech Senate

The opposition Social Democrats won a majority in the Czech Republic's Senate, which allows them to complicate government's austerity plans, final results showed Saturday, dpa reported.

The party triumphed in 12 of the 27 races for the 81-member upper house, now giving them a majority of 41 seats in the chamber.

The result enables the Social Democrats to delay introduction of spending cuts and public finance reforms planned by Prime Minister Petr Necas' three-party centre-right government.

"Our goal is to correct the (planned) reforms," said Social Democratic interim leader, Bohuslav Sobotka. "If they are unjust the Social Democrats will stand up to them in the Senate."

He added that voters showed that they are unhappy with the cabinet's policies.

The government vowed to cut the country's budget deficit under the European Union-required 3 per cent of gross domestic product by 2013, a plan that involves unpopular spending cuts as well as an overhaul of pensions and the health care system.

In September, tens of thousands of Czech government employees protested in the streets of Prague against the planned 10-per-cent cut in public servants' salaries.

Analysts said that the poll's outcome signaled that voters feared the belt-tightening measures.

"It is the first warning for the cabinet. People need to hear the arguments for the savings," said political scientist Jan Kubacek, who lectures at Prague's Charles University.

But the Social Democratic Senate would not steer the country away from Necas' austerity track, analysts said, as the chamber could only drag out adoption of the related legislation.

The premier conceded that the rivals' victory was unpleasant, but would not have a devastating effect.

"This is a reality with which we can live," Necas said. "We have to openly say that it will prolong and complicate the legislative process."

In addition, the leftist majority in the Senate could block constitutional and election laws and military missions abroad, including the cabinet's plan to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan.

Senators also elect Czech presidents, with the next vote planned for 2013, or one year after another election for one-third of Czech senators.

Necas' centre-right Civic Democrats, who were defending 18 seats, won eight races, "a standard result" according to the premier, while their coalition partners failed to repeat the stellar results from the May general election.

The new conservative party TOP 09, led by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, earned only two seats, while the populist Public Affairs, led by Interior Minister Radek John, did not win a single mandate.

Among the losers was also former Czech Social Democratic premier and European commissioner Vladimir Spidla, who lost to a Civic Democratic incumbent in the country's south.

The turnout in the poll's run-off was 24.64 per cent, down from 44.59 per cent in the first round a week ago, the results released by the Czech Statistics Office showed.

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