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Weary Czechs Vote Amid Economic Concerns

Voters in the Czech Republic are choosing a new government amid concerns about the country's economic crisis and widespread corruption. Some surveys indicate none of the main parties will have a majority in the lower house of parliament. For the first time in two decades the Communist Party is expected to play a role in the general elections.

The purpose of the Czech Republic's two-day election, which began Friday, is to replace an interim government and introduce long delayed economic and social reforms.

Rightist and leftist parties have clashed over how to tackle the budget deficit of over 5 percent of gross domestic product.

The main right-leaning parties have warned that the Czech Republic will face similar economic difficulties as nearly bankrupt Greece unless it reduces spending.

The leftists, who are supported by especially older and poorer voters, also pledge spending cuts. But they want to fund welfare by raising taxes for high income earners and companies.

President Vaclav Klaus, who has to appoint the next cabinet, has told reporters he hopes a strong government can be formed soon.

After casting his ballot, Mr. Klaus makes clear he is pleased that one of the longest and most expensive election campaigns in Czech history has ended because it caused disruptions and internal disputes between the parties.

The two largest parties, the Social Democrats and Civic Democrats, spent most of the roughly 19 million dollars allocated for the election campaign.

Voters can choose from a long list of 25 parties competing for places in the 200-seat lower house of parliament. They include many newcomers riding on public anger over the country's economic meltdown and widespread corruption.

The elections come more than a year after a three-party center-right cabinet collapsed in March 2009, halfway through the country's six-month presidency of the European Union.

Jan Fischer, a technocrat, was appointed as prime minister to lead an interim government. Mr. Fischer, who is not running for re-election, says the next cabinet will deal with difficult issues. Mr. Fischer says he voted for a party that will continue unfinished reforms in areas such as the economy, social affairs and foreign policy while also tackling extremism. He adds that the European Union faces a complicated future and there is a lot to think about and to decide on.

But with none of the parties expected to win a parliamentary majority, analysts and investors expect long coalition talks that they say could further delay crucial reforms.

Several Czech media have expressed concerns that the popular Social Democrats may seek backing for a cabinet from the Communist Party, which autocratically ruled the country for decades and was ousted from power in the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Analysts say the leftist Social Democrats, who are expected to win the ballot, may also seek a grand coalition with their rightist rival, the Civic Democrats.

The Civic Democrats have, so far, refused to openly back a coalition with the Social Democrats. Observers say the Civic Democrats may attempt to form an alternative coalition with new parties.

There is international concern the Czech Republic will once again face months of political instability. First official results are expected after polls close later Saturday.