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With first majority in Czech Senate, Social Democrats gain new power

The government in Prague is likely to face delays and compromise in its budget-cutting agenda after the weekend's Czech Senate elections gave the left-wing Social Democrats their first majority in the body.

Social Democrat leaders at press conference

The Social Democrats plan to push back on budget cuts

The opposition Social Democrats emerged as victors from the Czech Republic's Senate elections over the weekend, with the party eager to assert new influence over the center-right government's foreign and domestic agendas.

Saturday's elections handed Social Democrats 12 of the 27 Senate seats up for grabs, giving them their first Senate majority ever - a slim 41 out of 81 seats.

The results allow the center-left party to modify or block the conservative agenda of Prime Minister Petr Necas' three-party government, including its planned austerity measures.

Bohuslav Sobotka

Bohuslav said austerity measures should be fair to low-income Czechs

Social Democrats have described the cuts, which include a 10-percent pay cut for public-sector workers, as disproportionately harsh on low-income groups.

"We are ready to discuss future reforms with the cabinet," said Social Democratic interim leader Bohuslav Sobotka. "The goal is to make them fair, balanced, socially more tolerable."

Longer legislative process

The Social Democrats also are likely to block government plans to increase the number of Czech soldiers in Afghanistan to 720 from the current 535.

Responding to the results, Prime Minister Petr Necas said the loss of a conservative Senate majority was a "reality we can live with."

"The legislative process will become longer and more difficult, but we have always said we are ready to negotiate key changes and reforms with the strongest opposition party," Necas said.

Necas' Civic Democrats now have 25 Senate seats, while the junior coalition partners TOP 09 and the centrist Christian Democrats each have five. Three seats are held by independents and two by Communists.

General elections in May gave the Civic Democrats the power to form a government, but municipal elections last weekend favored the Social Democrats in key areas like Prague.

Author: Andrew Bowen (AP, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Kyle James

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