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Czechs head to polls in tight race
Two-day general election aims to end more than a year of political limbo.
Last Modified: 28 May 2010 12:46 GMT
The elections are taking place more than a year after Topolanek's government was toppled [AFP]

Czech voters are heading to the polls in a tightly contested two-day election that will bring an end to the country's ongoing political limbo.

Polls have indicated that the left-wing Social Democrats (CSSD) are likely to come out ahead of their right-wing Civic Democrat (ODS) rivals, but still fall some way of an outright majority.

The Czech Republic was thrown into a political vacuum after the centre-right coalition of Mirek Topolanek, the country's prime minister, collapsed following a no-confidence vote in March 2009.

The country has been run by a caretaker government since then led by non-partisan Jan Fischer, its longest period without a proper government since 1989.

Voting, which began at 12:00 GMT on Friday, ends midday on Saturday.

Ambitious plans

Both the CSSD and ODS have laid out ambitious plans to put the struggling economy back on track in a campaign marked by a level of rivalry that has been largely absent during Fischer's rule.

The Social Democrats, led by Jiri Paroubek, a former prime minister, said it expects to restart economic growth by curbing corruption, luring investors with incentives and using money from European Union funds more efficiently.

The Civic Democrats, led by Petr Necas, has said it wants to turn things around by curbing government spending and keeping taxes low, and says it is planning to carry out pension and healthcare reforms.

Dubbed the "bulldozer" of Czech politics, Paroubek rose to international prominence in March last year when he triggered the no-confidence vote that toppled his arch-rival Topolanek.

The vote came at a critical time, with the Czech Republic holding the EU presidency.

Necas succeeded Topolanek as ODS leader in April after his predecessor was caught making offensive remarks about gays and Jews.

Experts have warned it could take months to form a government, with analysts saying the country needs fundamental reforms, including a pension system overhaul.

"We can't afford to waste time," David Marek, an analyst at Patria Finance in Prague, told the AP news agency.

The Czech economy contracted by 4.2 per cent last year, and the EU predicts growth of 1.6 per cent this year.

The budget deficit will likely reach 5.3 per cent in 2010, and the public debt is at a 35 per cent of gross domestic product, reasonable compared with other EU countries.

Source:
Agencies
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