Czech left takes lead in election, early results show

Reuters

By Jana Mlcochova and Robert Muller

PRAGUE, Oct 26 (Reuters) - The main opposition centre-leftSocial Democrats took an early lead in a Czech parliamentaryelection that ended on Saturday, according to initial results.

The party led by former finance minister Bohuslav Sobotkawon 22.2 percent of the vote, based on 10 percent of pollingstations reporting results.

"I firmly believe we will be able to form a stronggovernment by the end of the year," Sobotka told reporters asthe early results came in. "We need a strong mandate, we wishfor around a third of the vote."

Opinion polls have predicted the pro-European Union SocialDemocrats will win about 25 percent of the vote as Czechs punishcentre-right parties, in power for most of the past seven years,over painful budget cuts and corruption scandals.

A left-leaning government is expected to slap new taxes onbanks, utilities and high earners to pay for social programmesand help keep the budget deficit below the EU's prescribed levelof 3 percent of national output.

The Social Democrats, out of power since 2006, aim to form aminority government backed in parliament by the Communists,heirs to the totalitarian party that lost power in the 1989"Velvet Revolution". It would be the first time the far-leftparty has had any share in power in the post-communist era.

The Communists were vying for the second spot with a newprotest movement called ANO, both on around 18 percent on thebasis of the early results. Four other parties seemed set tocross the minimum 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.

If the Social Democrats and the Communists between them failto win a combined majority, Sobotka would have to look forsupport from ANO and other centrist or centre-right parties.

Financial markets have mostly ignored the election thanks tothe Czech Republic's economic stability, underpinned by lowpublic debt load and the lowest borrowing costs in emergingEurope, but they may be rattled by an uncertain outcome and therisk of drawn-out coalition talks.

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