Polls close in Czech elections
PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Counting has started in the Czech elections after two days of voting.
Voters are deciding whether to return the centre-left Social Democrats to power or replace them with right-wing ex-premier Vaclav Klaus.
Whoever wins will lead the former Communist state into the European Union.
The polls closed at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) and preliminary results are due by late Saturday.
But the fifth election since the 1989 Velvet Revolution is not expected to produce a clear result and there is likely to be weeks of haggling over a new coalition.
Pre-election opinion polls showed late gains in centre-left support, suggesting the most likely outcome would be a government led by Social Democrat Vladimir Spidla.
Hungary and Poland, two other leading EU candidates from the region, have recently voted in centre-left governments, a shift that runs counter to right-wing gains in much of western Europe.
Election officials estimated that over half of the 8.2 million eligible voters had cast their ballots by mid-morning on Saturday. Turnout is normally above 70 percent.
"It looks like there'll be a very decent turnout. The weather is not keeping people away," election committee official Vera Hofrichterova was quoted as saying by the CTK news agency.
Opinion polls published shortly before the poll gave the ruling Social Democrats and the centre-right Civic Democratic Party around 25 to 30 percent support. (Profiles and issues)
Centre-right parties, known as the Coalition and the Communist Party have seen support hovering around 15 percent, according to the opinion polls.
Because the top two parties have worked together in government since the last election, they have worked hard to highlight their differences in this election. (Parties and policies)
The Civic Democratic Party wants to create a 15 percent tax and change the pension system to create personal retirement savings accounts.
The Social Democrats plan to increase some social services, support unionisation, and create 200,000 jobs.
Both leading parties say they are for membership of the European Union -- although the Civic Democratic Party says the EU has to meet some key conditions first.
Czech elections: Parties and policies
June 14, 2002
EU focus of Czech elections
June 14, 2002
Czech elections: Profiles and issues
June 14, 2002
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