Polls opened on Friday in the Czech Republic’s Senate election run—off, which is seen as a vote on austerity plans of Prime Minister Petr Necas’ centre—right government.
Voters are electing one—third of senators for parliament’s 81—seat upper house nearly five months after the May general election, which brought Necas’ three—party cabinet to power.
If the opposition Social Democrats win 12 of the 27 run—off races, they will earn a 41—seat Senate majority that will allow them to drag out introduction of planned spending cuts and public finance reforms.
The leftist opposition would be also able to block constitutional and election laws and military missions abroad, including the cabinet’s plans to raise troop numbers in Afghanistan.
“We want the Senate to function as a safeguard against mistakes of Necas’ government,” said the Social Democrats’ interim leader, Bohuslav Sobotka.
Mr. Necas, who had earlier called on voters to back non—leftist candidates, said on Friday that the potential Social Democratic victory would not jeopardize the country’s budget for 2011.
“I do not anticipate a provisional budget. The budget will pass,” he told reporters at a briefing televised on the CT24 news channel.
He said that if some cuts entered into force later than planned on January 1 “it would be unpleasant ... but not catastrophic.” Under Czech law, the state budget is passed only by parliament’s 200—seat lower house, where the cabinet has a safe majority of 118 votes.
The Social Democrats have candidates in 22 Senate run—off races, while Mr. Necas’ centre—right Civic Democrats proceeded to the second round in 19 districts.
The two days of polling are set to end at 2 pm (1200 GMT) on Saturday, with preliminary results expected later in the day.
The run—off is expected to attract fewer voters than the first round a week ago, when the turnout was 44.59 per cent.