Polling stations opened in the Czech Republic on Friday, launching a two—day general election that is expected to result in no outright winner and tough coalition talks to produce a government.

Czechs have been governed by a caretaker cabinet for over a year, during a time of economic crisis.

The Social Democrats are expected to get the largest number of votes but not enough to govern without forming a coalition.

They promise to avoid welfare cuts through higher taxes for companies and the rich. Their right—wing rivals, including the centre—right Civic Democrats, warn that the country needs to make painful decisions to avoid heading the way of an indebted Greece.

The Social Democrats, who have polled between 26—31 per cent, are not expected to win enough mandates in the 200—seat lower house to form a majority government on their own. The party, whose leader Jiri Paroubek is a divisive figure, may face hurdles when negotiating partnerships.

Some opinion polls showed that the election could end in a deadlock between the right and the left, just as in 2006 when seven months passed before the victorious Civic Democrats formed a ruling coalition.

That wobbly government collapsed in March 2009, midway through the Czech Republic’s presidency of the European Union. It was succeeded by the interim cabinet of Prime Minister Jan Ficher.

Two newcomer parties are expected to enter parliament by capitalizing on frustrations with the squabbling big parties, which have been tainted by corruption scandals. The new parties, which have polled at more than 10 per cent, are likely to play a significant role in coalition talks.

TOP 09, led by popular aristocrat Karel Schwarzenberg, is a conservative party that calls for spending cuts to tighten the country’s budget gap, which reached 5.9 per cent in 2009. Public Matters is a populist protest party that promises to establish law and order and replace “political dinosaurs”.

Possible outcomes include a fragile coalition of one of the big parties and the newcomers, a minority Social Democratic cabinet backed by unreformed Communists, or a grand coalition between the Social Democrats and their Civic Democratic rivals.

Some surveys have suggested that the Greens and the Christian Democrats, the junior governing parties during a part of the ending term, may not clear the five—per—cent threshold to enter parliament.

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