Q&A: Czech parliamentary election

People walk past an election campaign banner of The Czech Social Democrats party (CSSD) on October 17, 2013 in front of the Prague castle in Prague. Image copyright AFP
Image caption The election was precipitated by a corruption scandal that toppled the government of Petr Necas

Voters in the Czech Republic go to the polls on Friday to decide who will take over from the caretaker government appointed by President Milos Zeman this summer.

Parliamentary elections were not due until next year, but were brought forward following the collapse of the previous elected government in June and the failure of the "government of experts" appointed by Mr Zeman to win a confidence vote in parliament.

How did we reach this stage?

The centre-right coalition government formed by Petr Necas after the 2010 elections imploded earlier this year as the result of a corruption and abuse-of-power scandal involving the prime minister's chief-of-staff.

Mr Zeman stepped in at this point and tasked a close ally, Jiri Rusnok, with forming a caretaker government. Only a few months earlier, the left-wing Mr Zeman had become the Czech Republic's first ever directly elected president - to the consternation of many in parliament, which had until then been responsible for choosing the country's president.

Mr Zeman's imposition of an unelected economic adviser as prime minister further angered political parties, who accused him of mounting a power grab. In August, Mr Rusnok lost the confidence vote and MPs voted to dissolve parliament, paving the way for early elections.

Who are the main contenders?

The chief beneficiary of the government crisis has been the main opposition party, the centre-left Social Democrats, who have been leading in the opinion polls since the beginning of the election campaign.

The party's relationship with the president is far from straightforward. Mr Zeman led the Social Democrats for most of the 1990s, but was deposed as party leader in 2001. He subsequently left the party.

The current Social Democrat leader, Bohuslav Sobotka, is wary of Mr Zeman and suspects him of wanting to move the country further in the direction of a presidential system of government.

The Social Democrats are unlikely to win enough seats to govern on their own, and will probably have to form a coalition. Their most likely coalition partner is the Communist Party, which the latest opinion polls variously put in either second or third place.

Currently jostling with the Communists for second place is the Ano movement, launched only two years ago by billionaire businessman Andrej Babis. Ano is a protest party that seeks to capitalise on widespread public disillusionment with what are seen as high levels of corruption among the established parties.

Mr Babis is a controversial figure - there has been criticism of him in the media over his communist-era friends. He has denied allegations that he helped the communist secret police, the StB.

Only a handful of other parties seem set to clear the 5% threshold required to enter parliament.

What's the most likely post-election scenario?

If the latest opinion polls are not far wrong the Social Democrats are likely to form a coalition with the Communists.

But there are many undecided voters.

If lots of smaller parties manage to clear the electoral threshold, the result could be a hung parliament and a prolonged post-election stalemate. This could tempt Mr Zeman to become directly involved in appointing a new government - an intervention that many analysts warn could further shift the balance of power between parliament and the president.

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