June 3, 2006

Czech election ends in messy stalemate

By Alan Crosby

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech general election ended in a
stalemate between centre-right and leftist parties on Saturday,
setting the scene for prolonged horse-trading or even fresh
polls before a new government can be formed.

Full preliminary results showed the opposition Civic
Democrats won the biggest share of the popular vote but not a
majority in the first elections since the ex-communist nation
joined the European Union two years ago.

The conservative party and its two smaller centrist allies,
the Greens and Christian Democrats, would hold 100 seats in the
200-member lower house -- the same as the ruling Social
Democrats and far-left Communists.

"This is probably the worst outcome the election could
produce," said Pavel Saradin, a political analyst at Palacky
University in Olomouc. "Unless parties make about-faces, they
may want to deal the cards again and hold fresh elections."

Initial exit polls suggested a clear centre-right majority
but results from around the country gradually eroded their

Making the situation even messier, Social Democrat Prime
Minister Jiri Paroubek refused to concede defeat and threatened
to go to court to challenge the election result.

He said sleaze accusations levied against him in the final
days of the campaign were "absurd slander," lambasting the
media for siding with the opposition to undermine him.

"We will check if there are grounds to file ... a complaint
with the Supreme Administrative Court," he told a news
conference. "Democracy in this country has suffered an


The Civic Democrats and their Czech President Vaclav Klaus,
a fellow conservative who may play a pivotal role in any
coalition discussions, dismissed Paroubek's threat as sour

Klaus said he would hold talks with Civic Democrat leader
Mirek Topolanek on Monday, a sign he wanted him to be the next
prime minister.

The Civic Democrats campaigned on promises to cut taxes,
reform pensions and weed out corruption to make the already
prosperous and fast-growing country of 10.5 million more
competitive in the global economy.

The mildly eurosceptic party opposes deeper European
integration and the stalled EU constitution and are lukewarm on
Paroubek's aim of adopting the euro in 2010, saying reforms
should come first.

Surveys ahead of the vote showed many voters had mixed
feelings about the conservatives' economic agenda but wanted to
punish the Social Democrats for the sleaze scandals that
flourished during their 8-year rule.

Analysts said Czechs were also worried about Paroubek's
declared intention to rule with a minority government with
Communist support after the vote.

The Communists, whose authoritarian Soviet-backed rule
ended in the 1989 "Velvet Revolution," saw their share of the
vote and seats drop significantly but they will remain the
third biggest force in the new parliament.

Only two more parties, the Greens and the Christian
Democrats, passed the 5 percent threshold needed to enter
parliament but they would hold only 19 seats between them.

Some analysts said the election result could force the
Civic Democrats and Social Democrats into a "grand coalition,"
a scenario they say could be acceptable to Klaus.

Others said the Social Democrats may yet win over the
Greens and form a minority left-of-centre government that would
rely on the tacit support of the Communists.