By KAREL JANICEK, Associated Press
PRAGUE (AP) — Lawmakers in the Czech Republic voted Tuesday to dissolve Parliament's lower house and hold an early election, following June's collapse of the center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Petr Necas in a whirlwind of corruption allegations and marital infidelity.
On Tuesday all but seven of the 147 legislators present approved the early ballot, 20 more than the required needed in the 200-seat lower house. It was the first such decision by Czech lawmakers.
Czech President Milos Zeman, who now formally has to dissolve the house, has proposed calling the vote for Oct. 25-26. Regular elections were due in May 2014.
The vote was widely expected after several major coalition and opposition parties agreed that an early election would be the best way out of the crisis.
Polls have shown angry voters turning against Necas' conservative Civic Democratic Party, partly due to austerity measures adopted to reduce the deficit and partly due to corruption scandals. The party would likely lose badly, while the opposition leftist Social Democrats stand a good chance of winning the ballot.
"It's an unequivocal decision," said Social Democrats chairman Bohuslav Sobotka. "We're giving the citizens an opportunity to decide on the country's future."
If the Social Democrats succeed, it would be the first return to power since 2006 for the party which intends to increase personal income and corporate taxes and has more pro-EU policies than Necas' party.
The way for the early vote opened two weeks ago when a new government of technocrats led by President Milos Zeman's economy adviser lost a parliamentary confidence vote.
Zeman's choice of Jiri Rusnok, whose government was formed mostly by his allies, sparked anger from the coalition because Zeman did not choose its preferred candidate as prime minister.
But the coalition failed to remain united and lost its parliamentary majority as three its members refused to vote against Rusnok. That provoked TOP 09, a conservative member of the coalition, to join the opposition and support a snap election.
"The early election is the only solution of the political crisis," TOP 09 deputy chairman and former Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said Tuesday.
The crisis began when eight people were arrested in June, including Necas' closest aide and the head of his office, with whom he was having an affair. She is suspected of bribery and ordering a military intelligence agency to spy on Necas' estranged wife. The couple has since divorced.
Despite the political turmoil, the country's economy recently registered a sign of recovery from the longest recession since the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Figures published last week showed the economy grew in the second quarter of the year, for the first time since the third quarter of 2011.
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