Czech PM's party suffers big loss in regional vote

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 13, 2012 2:20 PM
Czech PM's party suffers big loss in regional vote

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic's ruling Civic Democratic Party suffered a drubbing in regional and upper house elections as voters punished the government for spending cuts and sleaze scandals, results showed on Saturday.

The Civic Democrats of center-right Prime Minister Petr Necas won 12.3 percent of the national vote, just over half of their 2008 result, trailing the center-left Social Democrats with 23.6 percent and the far-left Communists with 20.4 percent, results from 99 percent of voting stations showed.

Necas has already seen his coalition's parliamentary majority shrink and faces a rebellion among backbenchers that may bring down his cabinet in weeks. The prime minister has to defend his post as party chief at a congress in November.

The center-left Social Democrats, the main opposition party, also lost popularity from four years ago, when they won 35.8 percent.

The biggest gainers were the Communists, descendants of the former Czechoslovak totalitarian rulers, and several small local parties which won many more seats in the 13 regional assemblies than four years ago.

Necas blamed the losses on austerity and voters' tendency to back the opposition in regional ballots.

"It is the consequence of unpopular but necessary reforms," he told a news conference.

Government parties typically suffer in regional votes, held in the middle of the four-year parliamentary term, but the ballot this weekend showed an unusually deep drop.

Both the Civic and Social Democrats have suffered from corruption scandals in recent months, mostly involving kickbacks in big public tenders. Several senior officials have been charged.

The government narrowed the central European country's budget deficit to 3.1 percent of gross domestic product last year and aims to squeeze the shortfall below 3 percent next year despite a mild recession, through spending cuts and hikes in value-added and income taxes. The deficit should come in at 3.2 percent of GDP this year, according to the government.

But the plan has hit obstacles in the lower house of parliament where the government has only 100 out of 200 seats. Several backbenchers have threatened to vote against the legislation, which would also threaten the 2013 budget bill.

Necas, who has tied a vote of confidence to the tax hikes, hopes to reach an agreement with the rebels by Oct 23 when the next parliamentary session starts.

A fall of the cabinet would most likely lead to an early election at the beginning of the next year.

In a second vote on Friday and Saturday to fill one third of the 81 seats in the upper house of parliament, the Senate, leftist candidates also lead ahead of a run-off round next weekend, results showed.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; editing by Jason Webb)