- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2008

PRAGUE | The main opposition Social Democratic Party has made huge gains in regional elections in the Czech Republic on Saturday, possibly threatening plans to host part of a U.S. missile shield in the country.

With almost all the votes counted, the left-wing Social Democrats have won all the 13 regions contested, the Czech Statistics Office said, handing Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek his first defeat since he took over as chairman of his conservative Civic Democratic Party in 2002.

“It’s a grandiose victory,” Social Democratic chairman and former Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said.

Mr. Topolanek’s party won 12 regions in the previous regional ballot in 2004.

“It’s a loss for us,” he said.

A third of the 81 seats in the Parliament’s upper chamber were up also for grabs in the voting Friday and Saturday.

Only one candidate in the race for 27 Senate seats - a Social Democrat - reached the 50 percent threshold to win outright. The top-two finishers in the 26 districts face a runoff this week.

The landslide victory is a boost for the Social Democrats ahead of a parliamentary no-confidence vote Mr. Topolanek’s three-party coalition government faces Wednesday.

The opposition hopes the defeat could encourage several government lawmakers to rebel in the vote.

Even if the government survives, it may not be the end for Mr. Topolanek’s problems as the poor results could cost him his post as party chairman at a congress in December.

Among other issues, the Social Democrats campaigned on criticism of the U.S. missile defense deal. The United States wants to put part of an international missile shield in the Czech Republic.

“The voters want a change,” Mr. Paroubek said.

A majority of 41 seats the Civic Democrats hold in the Senate will be at stake at the runoff vote.

“We still have a chance next week to do better,” Mr. Topolanek said. Twenty Civic Democrats appeared to have advanced to the second round, with 99 percent of the votes counted.

A total of 25 Social Democrats have made it to the second round, giving the party a chance to shake the Civic Democrats’ dominance in the chamber.

The Parliament’s lower house dominates the Czech legislative process but the Senate will have to approve a treaty that allows the United States to place a missile defense radar on Czech territory.

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