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Leftist leader asked to form new Czech coalition

Thursday - 11/21/2013, 1:30pm  ET

PRAGUE (AP) -- Czech President Milos Zeman on Thursday officially asked the leader of the first-place party in last month's parliamentary election to open talks on forming a new government.

The left-wing Social Democrats emerged as the strongest party in the Oct 25-26 snap ballot, winning 50 seats in the 200-seat lower house of parliament. The new centrist ANO (YES) movement led by billionaire Andrej Babis was second, with 47 seats.

After meeting Zeman, Social Democratic leader Bohuslav Sobotka said Zeman asked him to put together a coalition backed by a parliamentary majority.

Sobotka said there's "a real chance" to create a coalition by the year's end with ANO and the Christian Democrats, who won 14 seats.

If he succeeds, Sobotka will become the prime minister.

Stroking a coalition deal, however, won't be easy.

ANO strictly opposes plans by the Social Democrats to increase corporate and personal income taxes for those in the highest bracket.

Babis said higher taxes are "no solution for us." He said better governance, tax collection and savings would be a better way to improve the state's finances.

Babis campaigned on an anti-corruption ticket and attracted a surprisingly high number of voters who were disgusted by corruption scandals and didn't care about reports -- denied by Babis -- that he collaborated with the communist-era secret police.

The election was called to end a political crisis triggered by center-right government's spectacular collapse in a whirlwind of corruption allegations and marital infidelity.

The Social Democrats also want to abandon pension and health-care reforms adopted by the previous government and at least modify legislation to pay billions to religious groups in compensation for property seized by the communist regime.

Sobotka called the compensation "too generous" but the Christian Democrats, as well the country's churches, oppose any changes.


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