News

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Civic Democrats win largest share of popular vote; election ends in deadlock

The weekend's general election has ended in deadlock with the right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats winning the largest share of the vote but with no clear prospect of forming a majority government. With over 35 percent of the vote, the party came just three percent ahead of the ruling Social Democrats. Three other parties got into parliament: the Communists, the Christian Democrats and the Green Party. The official results gave the Civic Democrats 81 parliamentary seats, the Social Democrats 74, the Communists 26, the Christian Democrats 13 and the Greens 6 seats in the 200-seat chamber.

This gives the Civic Democrats and their two smaller centrist allies, the Christian Democrats and the Greens exactly half of seats, with the rest going to the ruling Social Democrats and the Communists.

Turnout higher than in previous general election

Voter turnout has been calculated at just under 65 percent, some 6 percent more than in the previous general election in 2002. The leader of the winning party, the Civic Democrats, Mirek Topolanek, welcomed the strong turnout:

"Sixty-five percent is more than in the last elections four years ago and I think voters understood that it is necessary to take part in these elections and to decide about our direction after the elections."

Analyst: election result no big surprise

The result comes well short of being a clear victory for the right, but political analyst Jiri Pehe told Radio Prague that the Czech Republic is no stranger to political deadlock and weak government.

"Anyone who follows Czech politics must know that the nature of Czech politics is such that in the end we have coalition governments or weak minority governments and that the policy of the government will be basically centrist. It was naïve to expect that there would be a radical shift to the right or a radical shift to the left."

PM considering challenging validity of election

At a special news conference on Saturday evening, the leader of the Social Democrats, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, refused to admit defeat and said his party was considering challenging the validity of the election in court because of the nature of the campaign.

"Under the election law, it is possible to challenge the legal validity of the election if there is reason to believe the law was broken in a way which could influence the results of the election. We will look into the possibility of lodging a complaint with the Supreme Administrative Court. That would need to be done within ten days of the announcement of the results."

Mr Paroubek said that the Civic Democrats had led a dishonest smear campaign against his Social Democrats. He also called into question the Civic Democrats' ability to put together a majority government.

President "shocked" by PM's statements

In response to the prime minister's words, President Vaclav Klaus said late on Saturday evening he was shocked by Mr Paroubek's statements and said that in his opinion the prime minister was unable to accept defeat. President Klaus reiterated that he would start talks with the Civic Democrats over forming a new government on Monday. However, a presidential adviser said on Sunday that President Klaus would not formally entrust Mr Topolanek with the task of forming a new government, the normal procedure following elections in the Czech Republic.

Party leaders discuss immediate future in TV debate

Speaking in a debate on Czech Television on Sunday, the Civic Democrat chief Mirek Topolanek said that with the exception of the Communists, he would not exclude any party from coalition talks. If his Civic Democrats fail to put together a government, Mr Topolanek said he will step down as party chairman. Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek said he was going to recommend to his party to go into opposition. The chairman of the Communist Party Vojtech Filip called for a government of national unity combining all five parties in the lower house. However, the other parties said they would not form a government with the Communists, who lost a third of their seats compared with four years ago.

Historic first for Green Party

One of the winners of the Czech election was the Green Party, which entered parliament for the first time. The party leader, Martin Bursik was delighted at the result:

"Frankly, I am very happy about it - that the Czech Green Party is going to get into parliament and we are going to be the first Green Party in Central and Eastern Europe and we are prepared to assist and to help our partners in other Central and Eastern European parties."

Party leaders suggest changes to election rules

While no solution to the current stalemate has been put forward, the leaders of the elected parties have agreed that some changes need to be made to the election rules to prevent such draws in the future. While the Civic Democrats are in favour of a majority system, the Christian Democrats suggest changing the number of MPs in the chamber to 199 instead of the current 200. The remaining three parties favour a proportional representation system in a form which was in effect in this country until five years ago when certain modifications were added.

Civic Democrats clear winners among Czechs abroad

For the second time, Czechs living abroad were also able to take part in the elections at embassies and consulates. Most of them gave their votes to the Civic Democrats who received over 50 percent of the vote abroad. The Social Democrats got under 16 percent on a par with the Greens. Ten percent of Czech voters abroad voted for the Christian Democrats. The Communists got only 2 percent. Some 83 percent of the 5,000 who had registered to vote abroad turned up.

Gas prices in Europe increased last month

Petrol prices have been on the rise in Central Europe during the last month, and prices remain higher in the Czech Republic than in neighbouring Poland or Slovakia. A litre of fuel currently costs over 30.90 crowns (1.60 US dollars ). Yet the highest price increases have come in Italy, the Netherlands, and in the United Kingdom. Analysts say that prices in the Czech Republic could fall slightly in the coming days, this thanks to the strong Czech crown.

Weather

It should be partly cloudy and chilly in the next few days with daytime temperatures ranging from 12 to 16 degrees Celsius. Occasional rain is forecast in most parts of the country.