Czech Social Democrats won a slim victory in a parliamentary election on Saturday but faced a tough task forming a government after a wave of voter anger over sleaze and budget cuts propelled new protest parties into parliament.
With most results in, Bohuslav Sobotka's center-left, pro-European Social Democrats had 21 percent of the vote, well short of the 30 percent they had targeted and in need of more than one coalition partner to build a stable government.
In an outcome echoing the success of anti-establishment parties elsewhere in Europe such as Beppe Grillo's 5-Star movement in Italy, the big winner was an anti-graft movement ANO (Yes) led by Slovak-born billionaire businessman Andrej Babis.
ANO, launched just two years ago and languishing in opinion polls until late in the election campaign, took second place with nearly 19 percent. The Communists, heirs of the party that lost power in the 1989 ``Velvet Revolution," came third.
The election result leaves the central European country of 10.5 million people facing the prospect of protracted political haggling and of another weak and unstable government just as the Czech economy emerges from a lengthy recession.
It also dashes Sobotka's hopes of forming a minority government with the parliamentary support of the Communists because the two parties cannot muster a majority. The Communists, who have not had a share of power since the return of Czech democracy in 1989, won around 15 percent of the vote.
"If the lower house of parliament is fragmented, we will face tough negotiations on forming government,'' said Sobotka.
"The Social Democrats are prepared to take on this tough negotiation and we will try to form a reasonable, stable cabinet,'' he said, adding he was ready to talk to all parties except the center-right parties who led the last government.