By Jana Mlcochova and Robert Muller
PRAGUE, Oct 26 (Reuters) - The main opposition centre-left Social Democrats took an early lead in a Czech parliamentary election that ended on Saturday, according to initial results.
The party led by former finance minister Bohuslav Sobotka won 22.2 percent of the vote, based on 10 percent of polling stations reporting results.
"I firmly believe we will be able to form a strong government by the end of the year," Sobotka told reporters as the early results came in. "We need a strong mandate, we wish for around a third of the vote."
Opinion polls have predicted the pro-European Union Social Democrats will win about 25 percent of the vote as Czechs punish centre-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 on banks, utilities and high earners to pay for social programmes and help keep the budget deficit below the EU's prescribed level of 3 percent of national output.
The Social Democrats, out of power since 2006, aim to form a minority 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-left party has had any share in power in the post-communist era.
The Communists were vying for the second spot with a new protest movement called ANO, both on around 18 percent on the basis of the early results. Four other parties seemed set to cross the minimum 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.
If the Social Democrats and the Communists between them fail to win a combined majority, Sobotka would have to look for support from ANO and other centrist or centre-right parties.
Financial markets have mostly ignored the election thanks to the Czech Republic's economic stability, underpinned by low public debt load and the lowest borrowing costs in emerging Europe, but they may be rattled by an uncertain outcome and the risk of drawn-out coalition talks.