* Social Democrats hope to form minority government
* New protest parties also expected to score well
* Voting ends at 1200 GMT, results due later on Saturday
By Jana Mlcochova
PRAGUE, Oct 26 The main opposition centre-left
Social Democrats looked set to win most votes in a Czech
parliamentary election ending on Saturday but new protest
parties were also expected to do well, complicating the
formation of a new government.
Opinion polls predict Bohuslav Sobotka's pro-European Union
Social Democrats will win about 25 percent of the vote as Czechs
punish centre-right parties, in power for most of the past seven
years, over painful budget cuts and corruption scandals.
A leftist government led by former finance minister Sobotka
would slap new taxes on banks, utilities and high earners to pay
for social programmes and help keep the budget deficit below the
EU's prescribed level of 3 percent of national output.
The Social Democrats, out of power since 2006, aim to form a
minority government backed in parliament by the Communists,
heirs to the totalitarian party that lost power in the 1989
"Velvet Revolution". It would be the first time the far-left
party has had any share in power in the post-communist era.
Financial markets have mostly ignored the election thanks to
the Czech Republic's economic stability, underpinned by low
public debt load and the lowest borrowing costs in emerging
Europe, but they may be rattled by an uncertain outcome and the
risk of drawn-out coalition talks.
Polls opened at 1200 GMT on Friday and close at the same
time on Saturday. Complete results are expected to be known by
"I voted for a left-wing party because the right-wing
parties have discredited themselves. They played unfairly," said
Jan Klepl, a Prague resident in his 50s.
The snap election was called after centre-right prime
minister Petr Necas resigned in June in a scandal over alleged
illegal surveillance and bribery.
His Civic Democrats are tipped to win only 6.5 percent and
its former coalition partner, the conservative Top09, 9 percent.
Anger over sleaze in the central European country of 10.5
million people gave a big boost to new protest parties in the
final weeks of the election campaign, raising the prospect of
prolonged haggling over a new coalition between the Social
Democrats and smaller groups in the coming weeks.
The biggest of the new parties is ANO, set up by
Forbes-listed billionaire businessman Andrej Babis, which polled
at 16 percent in the latest opinion polls.
"What I want from this election is that this outrageous mess
finally ends. I have voted for ANO. I want a change. Babis seems
capable," said Petr, a doctor who declined to give his surname
as he cast his ballot in Prague.
Babis's anti-graft message has struck a chord with voters
who seem willing to overlook his pre-1989 membership of the
Communist Party and links to the then-secret police.
"The current parties have messed it up. They all lie just to
protect each other," said Vilem Zajicek, 50, making clear he was
voting for one of the new groupings.
Sobotka's hopes of becoming prime minister will hinge not
only on the smaller parties entering parliament.
President Milos Zeman, himself a former Social Democrat
prime minister, has made clear he expects to have a say in the
Zeman's position will be all the stronger if the margin of
the Social Democrats' victory is relatively modest and if more
of the newer parties - including a small leftist grouping that
strongly backs Zeman - make it into parliament.
Zeman has long disliked Sobotka and may try to negotiate a
coalition headed by another Social Democrat, analysts say.