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CSSD looks to ANO and Christian Democrats for new Czech government

The Czech Social Democrats will look to form a government after narrowly winning an election. The third placing of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia has cast doubts on a possible left-left coalition.

Likely Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka must assemble a majority after seven parties won seats in a national election Friday and Saturday - and must calm Social Democrats (CSSD) who blame him for a surprisingly weak election showing. Former Finance Minister Sobotka said he would talk to all parties, but added that ANO and a traditional small centrist party, the Christian Democrats, seemed logical.

Sobotka's Social Democrats won 50 seats in the 200-member lower house versus 47 seats for ANO (whose names stands for Action for Alienated Citizens, but is also Czech for yes), the party led by the Slovak-born billionaire Andrej Babis. The Christian Democrats won 14 seats. The parties would control 111 spots in the 200-seat parliament.

"Mathematically, there could be a center-left government with some form of cooperation with ANO and the Christian Democrats," Sobotka said on a television talk show. "I think the Social Democrats should focus on these talks."

The CSSD won 20.5 percent, ANO took 18.7, the Communist Party of Bohemia Moravia received 15 percent, and the Christian Democrats got 7 percent. President Milos Zeman said on Sunday that he expected it could take two to three months to put a new government in place.

"Our negotiating teams will meet next week," Sobotka said on Sunday, referring to representatives of the CSSD and ANO. Sobotka said that he expected "difficult talks."

'Ready to talk'

ANO's performance puts it in a powerful position. The Social Democrats had high ambitions after seven years in opposition, but the 20.5 percent take of the vote also represents the lowest-ever proportion of any winner in the country of 10.5 million.

The election ends seven years of scandal-tainted right-wing rule. Parties that led until the Cabinet collapsed in June lost. ANO, founded two years ago by Babis - who local media liken to Italy's Silvio Berlusconi - has benefited significantly from the right wing's scandals.

"We are ready to talk if someone asks us to," said Martin Stropnicky, deputy ANO leader. "When you win 19 percent, you are in a different situation than if you have 12 or 6."

According to CSSD members, the party could agree with ANO on anti-corruption measures, such as laws requiring the publishing of public contracts or forcing politicians to declare their property. However, the CSSD will struggle to follow through on plans to raise taxes for high earners and utilities, telecom companies and banks because of ANO's opposition to tax hikes. Babis also remains cooler on the adoption of the euro compared to the CSSD.

mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP)