Last updated: October 26, 2013 6:39 pm

Social Democrats win most votes in Czech election

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Czech billionaire Andrej Babis, right©AFP

Czech billionaire Andrej Babis, right

The Czech Republic’s Social Democrats have won most votes in snap elections, but the biggest winner was free-spending billionaire Andrej Babis, whose newly created Ano 2011 party came in a strong second.

With 99.9 per cent of the votes counted, the Social Democrats had 20.5 per cent of the vote, with Mr Babis’s party close behind at 18.7 per cent. The Communist Party, the only one in the region to still carry the name, came third with 14.9 per cent.

The centre-right, which had governed the country until the implosion of Petr Necas’s government in a sex-and-spying scandal earlier this year, was hammed by voters disgruntled with the existing political system. The Civic Democrats took only 7.7 per cent of the vote, while the party’s former coalition partners in the Top 09 party had 12 per cent.

Disaffection with established parties, most of which have been embroiled in corruption scandals, saw the Social Democrats’ support leak away in the weeks before the election – not helped by the lacklustre campaigning of their leader Bohuslav Sobotka.

The results will make it difficult for the Social Democrats to form a new government. They will have 50 seats in the 200-member parliament. Ano has 47, the Communists 33, Top 09 26, the Civic Democrats have 16 while the centrist Christian Democrats have 14, as does a newcomer to the political scene, Usvit (Dawn), a nationalist and anti-Roma party led by Japanese-Czech politician Tomio Okumura.

Before the vote polls had predicted a Social Democratic government supported by the Communists. But Mr Sobotka is going to have a much more tougher time cobbling together a governing coalition.

Mr Babis’s strong result has made him a crucial player, however it is unclear whether he can work with parties of either the left or the right. He started his party two years ago, outraged at persistent corruption and his campaign attacked the existing parties.

In an interview before the election, Mr Babis told the Financial Times that he was prepared to be in opposition.

The unclear election result hands yet more power to Milos Zeman, the Czech president. Mr Zeman, the first Czech president elected by popular vote, has been expanding his office’s authority despite its limited constitutional prerogatives. He managed to ram through a technocratic leftwing government after Mr Necas’s fall, and continues to hold the whip-hand in any attempt to build a governing coalition.

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