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Czech Voters Elect Center-Left Parliament - 2002-06-15

Latest results show the ruling Czech Social Democrats, who favor quick entry into the European Union, are headed for victory in the Czech Republic's parliamentary election where 6,000 candidates sought all 200 seats in the lower chamber.

While official results show that the Social Democrats, led by Vladimir Spidla, are the victors in the Czech elections, none of the parties received a majority in the 200-seat parliament. The Social Democrats had about 30 percent of the vote, four percentage points ahead of the center-right Civic Democratic Party.

Although both parties agree that the Czech Republic must join the EU in 2004, Civic Democratic Party leader and former prime minister Vaclav Claus recently warned that this process could harm the sovereignty of the young nation of just over 10 million people.

There are also differences in social policies. While the Social Democrats have said they want to create a social welfare state, which would include higher taxes, Mr. Klaus, a free-marketeer, fought for semi-privatized pensions and a flat 15 percent income tax.

As the biggest party, the Social Democrats are expected to start lengthy coalition talks with the so-called Coalition of Christian Democrats and the rightist Freedom Party, who have already expressed their willingness to participate in a left-led cabinet.

President Vaclav Havel, who will leave office next year after two terms, already has said he will choose the leader of a party who will have the best chance to form a functioning coalition government.

A victory by the Social Democrats seems to be in line with the political developments in Hungary and Poland, two of the region's other leading EU candidate states.

Both countries recently voted in center-left governments, a shift that runs counter to rightist gains in much of Western Europe.