PRAGUE (AP) — A special parliamentary election held in the Czech Republic left no party with a majority on Saturday, which could lead to protracted negotiations aimed at forming a coalition government.
The two-day election was called to end a political crisis triggered by the center-right government's collapse in a whirlwind of allegations about corruption and marital infidelity.
With all the votes counted by the Czech Statistics Office, the left-wing Social Democrats won 20.45 percent, or 50 seats, in the 200-seat lower house of Parliament. The party's ally, the Communists, finished third, receiving 14.91 percent of the vote, or 33 seats.
The Communists had hoped to give the Social Democrats their tacit support in a government that would give the Communists a share of the power for the first time since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which ended 40 years of communist rule in the country.
"The result is not what we expected," Bohuslav Sobotka, the chairman of the Social Democrats, said, referring to the worst election result for his party since 1993, when Czechoslovakia split into two countries: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In the republic, Parliament's lower house dominates the legislative process, and the leader of its strongest party is generally asked by the president to try to form a new government. But that is not expected to be easy this time, given the election result for the top seven parties of the 24 that competed in the election.
The new centrist ANO (YES) movement, which campaigned on an anti-corruption ticket, finished in a surprisingly strong second place, with 18.65 percent, or 47 seats.
"No government would be able to do without it," said analyst Tomas Lebeda, regarding the forthcoming coalition talks.
ANO, which had reached out to voters disgusted by corruption scandals, is led by a billionaire businessman Andrej Babis.
On Saturday, he criticized a plan by the Social Democrats to increase corporate and personal income taxes for those in the highest bracket. "Our country needs economic stability," he said. "What we need is low taxes."
The election was called after Prime Minister Petr Necas' center-right coalition broke down in June amid a spy scandal and corruption allegations. They included the arrest of Jana Nagyova, Necas' closest aide, with whom he was having an affair. She is suspected of bribery and ordering a military intelligence agency to spy on Necas' then estranged wife.
Necas has since divorced his wife, Radka, and married Nagyova.
Necas' conservative Civic Democrats party was clearly punished by voters, receiving just 7.72 percent of the vote, or 16 seats.
"It's a fatal loss," said its acting chairman, Martin Kuba.
Another conservative member of the former government, the TOP 09 party, captured 11.99 percent of the vote, or 26 seats.
The new populist Dawn of Direct Democracy movement got 6.88 percent, while Christian Democrats returned to Parliament after a three-year absence with 6.78 percent. Both those parties now have 14 seats.
The Social Democrats said they are ready to open negotiations about forming a new government with any party except the Civic Democrats and the TOP 09 party.
"Our goal is to create a stable government," Sobotka said.