Parliamentary election voting begins in Czech Republic

Czechs begin voting in parliamentary election

ANO has received 31.4 percent of the vote, after ballots from nearly 50 percent of the country's polling stations were counted, according to the Statistics Office.

Concerns about Babis mainly centre on his strong managerial style and vast business influence that would be amplified by him becoming prime minister. With slogans claiming he can easily fix the country's problems, he is, for some, the Czech answer to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Two days of balloting are being held to fill 200 seats in the lower house of parliament.

In a blow to traditional parties, of the first five parties so far leading in the vote, four challenge the traditional political mainstream. The opposition conservative Civic Democrats were third with 10.3 percent, while the Pirate Party followed with 9.9 percent and the Communists were fifth with 8.5 percent. The ruling Social Democrats, ANO's partners in the current governing coalition, received only 7.3 percent of the vote.

Final polls gave ANO about 25-27 percent support, at least twice that of the Social Democrats in second place.

Eight parties and groupings might win seats.

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Babis has been critical of the European Union; he opposes the EU's quota system on redistributing refugees and setting a date for adopting the euro.

Despite the country's economic success, analysts say many Czechs who are heavily in debt or working long hours for low wages feel they have been left behind and are turning to populist, eurosceptic and far-right anti-EU parties to vent their ire.

The Central European country has enjoyed rapid growth, a balanced budget and the lowest unemployment in the European Union, but voters have grown exhausted of traditional political players, giving rise to Babis and other protest parties.

"We're oriented on Europe", he said. "We are a democratic movement, we are a pro-European and pro-NATO party, and I do not understand why somebody labels us as threat to democracy". "We're a firm part of the European Union, we're a firm part of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation". The far-right SPD of Tokyo-born entrepreneur Tomio Okamura made the strongest gains clinching second spot on strong anti-EU, anti-migrant and anti-Islam rhetoric, similar to surging far-right parties in neighbouring Austria and Germany.

"I think his policy is for the people", pensioner Alena Kolarova said after voting in Prague and praised Babis for "restoring order in public finances and tax collection" during his three-year stint as finance minister that ended in May.

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