Category Archives: Czech Republic
Legislative elections were held in the Czech Republic on October 25-26, 2013. All 200 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecká sněmovna), the lower house of the Czech Parliament (Parlamentu České republiky), were up for reelection. All members are elected to serve four-year terms by closed party-list proportional representation (d’Hondt, 5% national threshold for single parties, higher for coalitions) in fourteen multi-member constituencies corresponding to the Czech Republic’s 14 administrative regions (including Prague).
The Chamber of Deputies is, by far, the most powerful house in the country’s bicameral legislature. The Senate (Senát), which is composed of 81 senators elected to six-year terms (single-member constituencies, two round system), renewed by thirds every other year, is a toothless body. It can only delay the passage of legislation, because the lower house can override any veto with an absolute majority (101 deputies). As such, control of the Senate is rather irrelevant; the main opposition party has had an absolute majority on its own since 2010.
The Czech paradox: Parliamentary or semi-presidential?
The Czech Republic is, in theory, a parliamentary republic with the President confined to a more symbolic, less political role – while still holding some significant constitutional powers in his own right. For example, the President can veto legislation (which can be overriden with an absolute majority of the lower house), appoint judges, dissolve the Chamber of Deputies under certain conditions and appoint the Prime Minister; on other matters, the President may only exercise his authority with the consent of the Prime Minister.
However, in practice, the President is a rather powerful figure in Czech politics. Governments have tended to be weak or led by weaker men, while the presidency has attracted three powerful figures who all managed to assume a more prominent role in daily politics than the constitution would let us suppose. The first President, Václav Havel (1993-2003) commanded a good deal of moral authority because of his prestige as a leading dissident under communist rule. His successor, Václav Klaus (2003-2013), was outspoken and controversial, famous for his Eurosceptic views and skepticism of man-made climate change. Since a constitutional reform in 2012, the Czech President, previously elected by a convoluted process by both houses of Parliament, is now elected directly by the people. The direct election of the President confers greater legitimacy and authority to the presidency, given that the President may now claim to hold his mandate and legitimacy directly from voters.
Former Social Democratic Prime Minister Miloš Zeman, a brash and sharp-elbowed old politico, won the first direct presidential election in January 2013. Zeman, reputed to be something of an autocrat who dislikes parliamentary democracy, clearly envisions a much stronger presidency which directly intervenes in the working of the parliamentary government. As such, Zeman has been at the heart of the political crisis which led to the early dissolution of Parliament.
Background: Czech political history since 1990
Running somewhat counter to the recent trends seen in other ex-Eastern Bloc states (Poland, Bulgaria, some Baltic states, Hungary etc) pointing towards greater political and partisan stability, the Czech Republic’s political system has grown more unstable in the past few years.
The broad based pro-democracy Civic Forum, which had led the Czech Republic towards liberal democracy, split up as soon as it had lost its raison-d’être. The conservative and free market wing of the movement, led by Václav Klaus, created the Civic Democratic Party (Občanská demokratická strana, ODS), which became – by the 1992 elections – the leading right-wing party in the country (and the largest party altogether). Václav Klaus served as Prime Minister between 1992 and 1998, governing in coalition with smaller centre-right parties. Similar to other right-wing governments in former communist states across the region, Klaus’ government focused on structural reforms, including privatization of state enterprises, and the development of strong ties with western Europe and the United States. His government fell due to financial scandals and an economic downturn, and the ODS lost the 1998 and 2002 elections to the Social Democrats.
The Czech Social Democratic Party (Česká strana sociálně demokratická, ČSSD), which re-emerged following the fall of communism, was originally founded within the Austrian socialist party in 1878 and became an independent party in 1893. The ČSSD was a member of the five-party coalition which governed Czechoslovakia during the First Republic. Its cooperation with bourgeois parties led to a painful split in 1921 and the creation of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, who won over 10% in the 1925, 1929 and 1935 elections (placing ahead of the ČSSD in 1925). It was reborn after the fall of communism and established itself as the main centre-left force in 1996 (26.4%, vs. 29.6% for the ODS). Unlike most social democratic parties in Eastern Europe, the Czech Social Democrats are not descended from the ruling communist party from the Cold War years.
The ČSSD, led by Miloš Zeman, won the 1998 elections. Lacking an absolute majority or potential coalition partners, Miloš Zeman formed a minority government and signed an “Opposition Agreement” (opoziční smlouva) with ODS leader Václav Klaus. The ODS recognized Zeman’s right to form a government and pledged not to introduce confidence motions against the government (effectively giving it confidence and supply); in return, the government would consult the ODS on major policy initiatives and ODS politicians would be named to public offices – Klaus became speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. The opposition agreement shocked voters after a bitter campaign between both major parties, and soon met organized opposition from other parties, intellectuals and students. Both parties agreed to change the electoral law to make it more favourable to larger parties and a close ally of Klaus, Jiří Hodač, was named to head the public broadcaster, ČT. Employees of the TV network, supported by President Havel and a movement of intellectuals and students, protested against the nomination.
The opposition agreement marked an important moment in Czech political culture: it is often identified as the date when the political elite, from the ODS and ČSSD, agreed to share the spoils, betraying the voters, and when high-level corruption and collusion between big business and politicians was firmly entrenched in the political system. Corruption is an endemic issue in Czech politics, one which every successive government has struggled to deal with.
Zeman’s government laid the groundwork for the Czech Republic’s accession to the EU and NATO (2004 and 1999 respectively), but otherwise his tenure was largely unremarkable and the opposition agreement had a deleterious effect on the ČSSD in midterm senatorial and regional elections in 2000. In the 2002 elections, both the ODS and ČSSD saw their share of the vote fall somewhat, benefiting the Communists and a centrist coalition. This time, the ČSSD formed a coalition with two centrist/centre-right parties. Zeman was replaced as Prime Minister by Vladimír Špidla, whose two-year tenure was marked by coalition dissensions and attempts to reduce the country’s growing public debt. The ČSSD was crushed in the 2004 European elections, winning only single digits, and Špidla resigned.
His successor, Stanislav Gross, remained in office for less than a year before he was forced to resign following a financial scandal. He was replaced by Jiří Paroubek, who led the party into the June 2006 elections. From the lows of 2004-2005, Paroubek, helped by strong economic growth, managed to significantly improve the ČSSD’s support. The 2006 campaign was extremely acrimonious and dirty; Paroubek ran a scare campaign warning of the destruction of social services and a threat to democracy equivalent to February 1948 (the Communist coup) if the ODS won, while ODS leader Mirek Topolánek attacked the ČSSD on corruption scandals and refused to shake his opponent’s hands in the debate, saying he did not respect it. It even came to blows – an ODS adviser to the President, Miroslav Macek, slapped the ČSSD health minister, David Rath in the face because Rath had said that Macek had married his wife for the money.
In this polarized context, both the ODS and ČSSD performed well in the 2006 election – both parties increased their vote share from 2002, the ODS gaining some 11 points and winning 35.4%, the ČSSD gaining about 2 points and winning 32.3%. The net result was deadlock: the ODS and its potential allies – the centre-right and the Greens – held exactly 100 seats, the ČSSD and the Communists held the other 100 seats. The ČSSD would not work with the Communists, so ODS leader Mirek Topolánek was the favourite to become Prime Minister, but the process lasted over six months, until January 2007. He attempted to recreate an ‘opposition agreement’ with Paroubek but failed to do so. He was appointed to form a government in September 2006, and formed a minority government composed of the ODS and independents. In October, however, the Chamber refused confidence, 99 votes to 96. In January 2007, Klaus reluctantly agreed to appoint Topolánek as Prime Minister, this time with a coalition made up of the ODS, the centre-right (KDU-ČSL) and the Greens. Topolánek was able to receive the confidence of the Chamber, with two rogue ČSSD members leaving the Chamber and another abstaining, allowing Topolánek to win 100-97, with one abstention.
Topolánek’s main achievement during his term in office was a major fiscal reform. His government, as the ODS had promised in the campaign, scrapped the progressive income tax (12% to 32% rates) and introduced a 15% flat tax on personal incomes. This major public finance reform also gradually reduced the corporate tax rate from 24% to 19%, increased personal tax credits, increased the reduced rate of VAT from 5% to 9%, introduced environmental taxation, reduced social security benefits and introduced user fees in healthcare. Topolánek was also a strong supporter of the US missile defense system, and was fairly critical of the EU.
His government fell on a confidence vote in March 2009, with two ODS rebels and two Green dissidents joining the left-wing parties in voting against Topolánek’s cabinet, which fell 101 votes to 96. This opened a political crisis, compounded by the fact the the country was presiding the EU for six months. There was talk of snap elections in the fall of 2009, but the ODS and ČSSD, along with the Greens and KDU-ČSL, agreed to a transitional cabinet led by the head of the statistical office, Jan Fischer. Fischer’s technocratic cabinet included ministers nominated by the two major parties and the Greens.
Elections were finally held in May 2010 proved disastrous for both the ODS and ČSSD. The ODS’ campaign was severely disturbed when its top candidate, Topolánek, was forced to resign in April 2010 after an interview he gave to a gay magazine in which he said that gays and Jews lacked moral character (but the Jews more so), accused the churches of brainwashing people and berated ČSSD voters. This was not the first controversy for Topolánek, a fairly brash character: in the spring of 2009, photos showing up sunbathing naked at Silvio Berlusconi’s Sardinian villa were seized and in the summer of 2009 he held shady meetings with Czech lobbyists and industrialists in Tuscany. Topolánek was replaced by Petr Nečas, the vice-chairman of the ODS who had served as deputy Prime Minister in Topolánek’s governments. The opposition ČSSD (still led by Paroubek), had performed very well in the 2008 regional and senatorial elections, but they ran a terrible campaign. Paroubek boycotted two newspapers and three magazines which he accused of inciting hatred by its ties to right-wing parties. The right’s campaign on fiscal responsibility and reducing indebtedness struck a chord, as did fears that the country was “the next Greece”.
The ČSSD and ODS saw their support collapse, winning 22.1% and 20.2% respectively. The main winners this time were new parties, which ate into the ODS (and ČSSD)’s support. TOP 09 and Public Affairs (VV), two new centre-right parties, won 16.7% and 10.9% respectively. Commanding a right-wing majority, Petr Nečas was able to form a cabinet rather quickly, with the support of TOP 09 and VV. On strict party lines, he won confidence with 118 votes to 82.
The other forces
Until 2010, the other relevant parties included the Communists and a plethora of parties on the centre-right.
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy, KSČM) is another Czech oddity in the former Eastern Bloc. No non-Soviet former Eastern Bloc state has retained a strong, electorally viable unreconstructed communist parties. In other countries, the majority of the former communist party went on to form the basis of contemporary centre-left parties and one-time communist party members joined parties all across the board. This has also been the case in the Czech Republic: a number of older politicians on both the left and right began their careers in the KSČ or its ‘allied parties’. The KSČ split in 1989, with the Czech branch being refounded in March 1990 as the KSČM (the Slovak Communist Party effectively died out). Czech Communists, broadly conservative, aimed at perpetuating the traditional party identity rather than redefining themselves as some kind of new, plural left.
The KSČM remains an ‘unreconstructed’ communist party which has not moved towards democratic socialism or eurocommunism. In the first years, anti-revionists managed to overwhelm moderates/’revisionists’ who favoured an evolution to democratic socialism. The new leadership was anti-revisionist, but not completely Stalinist – they did criticize the “inadequacies” of the pre-1989 regime, and did not advocate for a return to the pre-1989 regime (unlike a small handful of hardliners). Yet, for most of the 1990s, the KSČM was very much a pariah, systematically excluded from decision-making and political activities by the other parties.
The KSČM, much to the chagrin of the other parties, did not die out with the fall of communism. Instead, it has remained a strong force, with the most stable electorate of any Czech party. Since 1990, its supports has floated between 10% and 20%; it has never won less than 10% of the vote in a parliamentary election and usually wins between 11% and 14% of the vote, with a peak at 18.5% in 2002. In the 2012 regional elections, the KSČM placed second with 20.3% and topped the poll in two regions.
The ČSSD, in the 1995 Bohumíně resolution, stated that it would not cooperate with ‘extremist’ parties, including the KSČM. Since then, the ČSSD’s attitude towards the KSČM has shifted. Presidents Václav Havel and Václav Klaus both refused to appoint any Prime Minister and government which would be supported by the Communists; for example in 2004, Klaus demanded that Stanislav Gross submit a list of 101 non-Communist MPs who would back his government before appointing him.
In 2005, KSČM leader Miroslav Grebeníček was replaced by Vojtěch Filip, the party’s current leader. Filip has continued to adhere by the traditional party line, but his election was seen as an attempt to sanitize the party’s image and a greater openness to working with the ČSSD. Successive ČSSD leaders have refused to form a national governing coalition with the KSČM, but the party is more willing to accept the potential of forming a minority government with Communist support. Former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek (2005-2006), repeatedly stated that he would not form a coalition with the Communists but his government was able to pass laws with Communist support. At the regional level, the ČSSD rules in coalition with the KSČM in 10 out of 13 regions; the KSČM even holds a regional presidency since 2012.
Although the ‘cordon sanitaire’ of sorts which isolated the KSČM is slowly being broken, the party remains very controversial. Although there is, in practice, nothing very revolutionary about a party whose average members’ age is 70, they retain a tendency to say fairly inconvenient things – nostalgia for “the good old days” (pre-1989) or sending condolences to North Korea on Kim Jong-Il’s death. Their youth organization was banned between 2006 and 2010 for advocating a violent revolution, and there have been repeated calls to ban the KSČM. Public opinion remains, in majority, hostile towards the party and there is a strong anti-communist movement.
In between the ODS and the ČSSD, a number of political parties have tried to form some kind of centrist/centre-right alternative to the two major parties and play the role of kingmakers.
The most successful of such parties, historically, has been the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People’s Party (Křesťanská a demokratická unie – Československá strana lidová, KDU-ČSL), which is a continuation of the ČSL, a clerical Catholic party which existed during the interwar years. In that period, the party, as the representative of the predominantly Moravian ‘clerical Catholic’ camp in Czechoslovak politics, was a member of almost every government coalition. It was allowed to operate after World War II, but after 1948 the Communists turned the ČSL into a puppet party, member of their ‘National Front’; but many members opposed communist rule. With two exceptions, the KDU-ČSL’s support since 1990 has ranged between 6% and 8%, providing them with a small but important caucus in Parliament. Between 1992 and 1997, the party supported ODS Prime Minister Václav Klaus.
Following the opposition agreement in 1998, the KDU-ČSL teamed up with three other parties, all of them on the centre-right, to form an anti-opposition agreement coalition, styled the Čtyřkoalice (Quad or Coalition of Four). The Čtyřkoalice also included the Civic Democratic Assembly (ODA), which left in 2002, and the liberal Freedom Union (ODS dissidents)/Democratic Union – who merged in 2001. The Čtyřkoalice enjoyed brief success; they won the 2000 senatorial elections (16/27 seats; giving them a majority of seats overall!) and placed second in the 2000 regional elections with 22.9%. But the ODA feuded with other parties and eventually disappeared, and the coalition itself dissolved. In the 2002 legislative elections, the centrist coalition of the KDU-ČSL and the US-DEU (Freedom Union-Democratic Union) won 14.2% of the vote.
The KDU-ČSL and US-DEU governed in coalition with the ČSSD until 2005, but the relation was uneasy. The KDU-ČSL forced Stanislav Gross to resign after the financial scandal, and Paroubek often turned to the Communists for parliamentary backing for his laws. Indeed, in 2003, Miroslav Kalousek, on the right of the party, became leader of the KDU-ČSL and did not hide his preference for participation in a right-wing coalition. Which is what they did after the 2006 election – the KDU-ČSL joined Topolánek’s ill-fated cabinet. The experience badly hurt the KDU-ČSL: Kalousek stepped down as party leader in 2006, his successor was forced to step down in 2009 following a number of scandals and the party’s leftward shift under Cyril Svoboda after 2009 was controversial.
In June 2009, Kalousek left the party and founded TOP 09 (Tradice, Odpovědnost, Prosperita 09), which attracted dissidents from the KDU-ČSL and ODS. Because Kalousek is a fairly unpopular and slimy politician implicated in numerous scandals, TOP 09 has made everybody believe that it is actually led by Karel Schwarzenberg, a colourful and popular prince, who had been elected to the Senate in 2004 and was nominated by the Greens as foreign minister in Topolánek’s second cabinet (2007-2009). TOP 09, boosted by Schwarzenberg and alliances with local groupings, won 16.7% in the 2010 election and became the second largest member of Petr Nečas’ cabinet, with Schwarzenberg returning as foreign minister and Kalousek serving as finance minister. Ideologically, TOP 09 is pro-European – unlike the ODS – but shares the ODS’ very right-wing views on economic and fiscal questions. TOP 09 seeks to reduce the size of government, cuts regulations, balance the budget and promote private enterprise.
Karel Schwarzenberg remains the party’s most popular public figure. He ran in the 2013 presidential election, placing second and losing the runoff to Zeman with 45.2% of the vote.
In the meantime, the KDU-ČSL performed disastrously in the 2010 election, winning 4.4% and losing all seats. The party, however, regrouped and returned to its normal levels of support in 2010 and 2012.
The 2010 election also saw the rise of Public Affairs (Věci veřejné, VV), an anti-corruption platform which emerged, beginning in 2001, from Prague local politics. In 2009, VV recruited popular investigative journalist Radek John as its leader, and his popularity – combined with growing anti-establishment sentiments and dissatisfaction with the political system – allowed VV to come out from nowhere to win about 11% of the vote in the 2010 election. At the time, little was known about what VV was, who it was and what it stood for.
2010-2013: the destruction of the party system
Petr Nečas’ government agenda included fiscal responsibility, the fight against corruption and rule of law. It basically failed on all three counts, especially the last two.
The government, to reduce the deficit and public debt, quickly introduced very unpopular austerity policies which included spending cuts, cutting public investments and tax increases.
The government adopted a major overdue pension reform in late 2012, which came into force in January 2013, which created a three-pillar system in which individuals may redirect 3% of their contribution, which in the past went into the state fund, into private pension funds. Opting to do so would increase an employee’s wage deductions by 2%, from 6.5% to 8.5%, and participants would not be able to change their minds later. The existing third pillar, which were voluntary privately-managed (with state contribution) supplementary schemes, will continue to exist but no longer accept participants. In parallel, a new type of third pillar voluntary supplementary fund with state contribution will be created. It was a tough reform to pass, meeting opposition from the left but also hostility from President Klaus.
The government faced a backbench revolt in November 2012 from its intentions to increase the VAT by 1%, increasing the base rate from 20% to 21% and the reduced rate from 14% to 15%. The government also modified the flat tax by adding a 22% tax rate on high incomes. The effect of the government’s austerity policies has been negative for the economy. While the country’s debt is under control and the deficit is hovering over or under the EU’s 3% limit (3.3% in 2011, 4.4% in 2012, 2.9% in 2013; down from 5.8% in 2009); austerity has decreased public demand and led to a double-dip recession: the GDP shrunk by 4.7% in 2009, and while it grew by +1.9% in 2011, the country was in recession in 2012 (-1.3%) and will likely be in recession again in 2013 (-0.4%).
The government was forced to backtrack on a controversial reform of post-secondary education in 2012. Originally, the government had sought to introduce tuition fees (up to 20,000 CZK), reduce student power in university decision-making and strengthen private sector stakeholders in governance of post-secondary institutions. There were student protests in 2011, and in June 2012 a new higher education minister, Petr Fiala, shelved the plans to engage in dialogue.
The government also dealt with the contentious issue of church restitution – compensating churches for the loss of lands and real property seized by the communist regime and financial compensations. Under the law passed in November 2012, the state will return land, real estate and legal property to churches, religious communities and legal persons – valued at 75 billion CZK. Privately-owned land or state-owned land used for military purposes or as national parks will not be returned. In addition, churches will receive a total of 59 billion CZK in financial compensation, 47.2 billion CZK of which will go to the Catholic Church. The bill was criticized by the opposition and VV, and faced constitutional challenges.
Besides presenting itself as a government of fiscal responsibility, the incoming government also promised to crack down on corruption. Nečas was originally known as ‘Mr. Clean’, and VV leader Radek John was named Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the fight against corruption.
Little was known of VV when it performed well in the 2010 elections, but it soon turned out that the whole ‘anti-corruption’ image was a sham and that the party reeked of corruption. The party – and the government – faced its first crisis in April 2011, when a number of VV MPs admitted, after the magazine Respekt had leaked details, that they had received substantial bribes from VV’s unofficial leader and transport minister Vit Bárta, in exchange for their loyalty and silence. Bárta resigned from cabinet a few days later and Nečas shuffled his cabinet, with Radek John stepping down as interior minister to focus solely on the ‘anti-corruption’ portfolio. In May, John resigned from cabinet, citing disagreements with Nečas.
VV’s troubles did not end there. In the spring of 2011, again, questions were raised about the source of the party’s financing – with suspicions of money laundering, illegal money and proceeds from the sale of shares. Again in April 2011, the newspaper Mladá fronta DNES published documents from 2008 in which Vit Bárta, who was then the owner of a shady security comapny (ABL), detailed his plans to use VV as a front to advance the economic interests of the company – basically put, a political party as part of a broader for-profit business plan. Other VV leaders were also tied to private businesses.
Later in 2011, education minister Josef Dobeš (VV) appointed controversial political activist Ladislav Bátora, suspected of ties to anti-Semitic and neo-fascist organizations, to a senior position in the ministry of education. The appointment met strong opposition from academics, but also disturbed members of the ODS and TOP 09. Karel Schwarzenberg and Bátora got into an heated shouting match, which created another crisis in cabinet. Bátora was forced to resign in October 2011.
In the fall of 2011, two cabinet ministers were forced to resign as a result of corruption scandals. The Minister of Industry and Trade, Martin Kocourek (ODS), resigned in November 2011 after he was unable to explain the origin of 16 million CZK in his mother’s bank account. In December 2011, the Minister of Culture, Jiří Besser (STAN/TOP 09) resigned after failing to declare that he owned an apartment in Florida and that a close associate had been sentenced for corruption.
In April 2012, Vit Bárta was sentenced by a Prague district court to 18 months imprisonment for bribery (later overturned on appeal). Despite his sentencing, however, Bárta announced that he would remain in Parliament and continue his political career. This led to an internal crisis in VV, with Karolína Peake, the Deputy Prime Minister, left the party along with two other cabinet ministers and four other VV MPs. Peake founded a new party, LIDEM (LIDEM – liberální demokraté), which remained in the government. The Prime Minister asked for a vote of confidence at the end of the month, which he carried with a much reduced majority of 105 MPs against 93. In January 2013, LIDEM came close to leaving the coalition after Nečas fired Peake from her defense portfolio, but it soon abandoned those plans.
In June 2012, Nečas dismissed the Minister of Justice, Jiří Pospíšil (ODS). Many speculated that the real reason behind Pospíšil’s sacking was that he intended to appoint the tough anti-corruption lawyer Lenka Bradáčová as chief public prosecutor in Prague (she was later appointed anyways).
Other corruption scandals involving members of the governing parties also hurt the government’s image. In the October 2012 regional and senatorial elections, worn down by the economy and its terrible record on corruption, the ODS suffered monumental loses – winning only 12.3% of the vote in the regional elections and losing no less than 10 seats in the Senate.
All of these scandals, however, were little in comparison to the massive scandal which brought down the Prime Minister and the government, leading to a political crisis.
The political crisis
On June 13, 2013, police raided the government offices and arrested nine people, eight of whom were charged. Those arrested included Jana Nagyová, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and alleged mistress, the former and current heads of the Military Intelligence Service, three former ODS MPs and a former deputy minister. Nagyová was held on two separate counts.
In the first case, Nagyová is accussed of asking military intelligence to spy on three civilians, including Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ then-wife Radka Nečasová, for ‘purely private’ reasons. Nagyová was, according to prosecutors, hoping to convince Nečas to divorce his wife, whom she suspected of having an affair.
In the second case, she is accussed of bribing three former ODS MPs (Ivan Fuksa, Marek Šnajdr and Petr Tluchoř) with lucrative posts in public offices in exchange for their resignation (and replacement by loyal foot soldiers) to save the government in the confidence vote on the VAT hike last fall. The government managed to survive the vote with the resignation of these three MPs (two of the other six backbench rebels backed down, and one quit the party). Petr Nečas was involved in the deal-making.
The whole police op and cases are quite bizarre. Many expressed their surprise at the organization of the police raid, notably asking why the authorities had finally cracked down on corruption which has been around for decades. On the second case, political horse-trading of this kind is hardly unheard of in the Czech Republic (and elsewhere), and Nečas originally defended himself by saying that it was just the usual political deal-making.
The raid was part of a broader investigation which aimed to pin down powerful businessmen and lobbyists suspected of scheming to gain control of state-owned firms. Police seized millions of dollars in cash and ten kgs of gold during the raid.
Public tolerance for corruption is increasingly low, and politicians are feeling voters’ pressures. Nečas’ governments did take a few baby steps towards fixing some of the most egregerious issues in the political system, notably removing life-long immunity from criminal prosecution for all MPs, who nevertheless enjoy immunity while in office.
Petr Nečas originally indicated that he would try to weather the scandal and remain in office, but by June 16, he was forced to announce his resignation. Since then, Nečas married Nagyová in September – perhaps because the law prevents courts from forcing spouses to testify against one another.
In stepped President Miloš Zeman. The news of Nečas’ resignation was welcomed by the president, who had even promised his voters that he would topple Nečas’ government. With Nečas out of the picture, the power of appointing a new Prime Minister fell into the President’s hands. The President has no constitutional obligation to appoint a Prime Minister on the basis of parties or parliament’s recommendation until two of his nominees have been rejected by Parliament. However, in practice, past Presidents have followed the advice of party leaders in choosing Prime Ministers.
The ODS, TOP 09 and LIDEM recommended that Zeman appoint the ODS president of the Chamber of Deputies, Miroslava Němcová. Němcová had the backing of the three former coalition partners and the ODS claimed that it had a list of 101 MPs who would support her in a vote of confidence. The opposition ČSSD, KSČM and VV wanted to dissolve Parliament and hold snap elections. Zeman had his own ideas.
On June 25, Zeman appointed Jiří Rusnok, an economist who had served as a finance minister when Zeman was Prime Minister and who, like Zeman, had quit the ČSSD. Rusnok’s cabinet consisted of independents and close allies of the President. Rusnok/Zeman’s pick for the finance ministry was none other than Jan Fischer, who had run (and lost) in the presidential election earlier this year and had endorsed Zeman in the runoff at the last minute. Fischer had been unable to repay his campaign expenditures, until he received 5.3 million CZK from businessmen before his nomination.
It was clear fairly early that Rusnok was unlikely to receive the support of the Chamber, but it was all part of an ingenious plan by Zeman to increase his political influence. After his nominee is rejected by the Chamber, the President has the appoint a second candidate; but he is under no obligation to do so within a set timeframe. In the meantime, the outgoing cabinet continues to govern on a day-to-day basis as a caretaker government. For example, Zeman was able to use his new presidential cabinet to clear diplomatic appointments which had been blocked by Schwarzenberg beforehand. He named Livia Klausová, the wife of former President Klaus (who endorsed Zeman), as ambassador to Slovakia and Vladimír Remek, Czechoslovakia’s only astronaut and KSČM MEP as ambassador to Russia. Rusnok’s government also dismissed 60 senior bureaucrats from office.
Zeman’s move infuriated the right-wing parties, who were able to defeat Rusnok’s government in the Chamber on August 7. Rusnok’s government received the support of 93 MPs (ČSSD, KSČM, VV), while 100 voted against it (ODS, TOP 09, LIDEM). On August 20, 140 MPs (ČSSD, KSČM, TOP 09, VV) voted in favour of dissolving the Chamber of Deputies, more than the three-fifths majority required by the constitution to dissolve the lower house. The ODS did not participate in the vote. Zeman was unfavourable to the organization of snap elections, preferring to hold them alongside next year’s European elections in May 2014.
Parties and issues: the old timers
The ČSSD led the polls – often by huge margins – for basically the duration of the legislature’s term, and was the runaway favourite to win the elections; and probably with a strong result – above its 2010 result – and in a strong position to form a minority government with the KSČM’s support.
The past three years, however, have not been without hitches for the ČSSD. Former Prime Minister and ČSSD leader Jiří Paroubek resigned following the 2010 election but in November 2011 he left the party and created his own party, LEV 21-National Socialists (LEV 21 – Národní socialisté). The name ‘national socialist’ in Czech politics refers to the nationalist socialist tradition of the First Republic, it has nothing to do with Nazism (but the use of the term never stops to amuse foreign observers!). The Czech national socialist movement was a patriotic and Czech nationalist splitoff from the socialist/labour movement, influenced by the local Hussite tradition. It was supported largely by intellectuals (Edvard Beneš), civil servants and the lower middle-class. Paroubek’s movement never gained steam, however, and LEV 21 did terribly in the 2012 elections.
Since 2010, the ČSSD has been led by Bohuslav Sobotka, who was finance minister between 2002 and 2006.
In May 2012, the ČSSD faced a far more serious problem when David Rath, a former health minister (who got slapped) and then-governor of Central Bohemia, was arrested for accepting bribes and taking kickbacks. The ČSSD’ support in polls collapsed and the party won only a Pyrrhic victory in the 2012 elections, winning 23.6% – down 12.3% from the 2008 regional elections (a ČSSD landslide).
Like in 2010, the ČSSD’s platform was fairly left-wing. It promised to reinstate the progressive income tax, raise taxes on high incomes (top tax rate at 38%), increasing corporate taxes (from 19% to 21%; 30% for banks, energy companies and phone operators), a 40% increase in the minimum wage (from 8,500 CZK to 12,000 CZK [€480]), increasing social benefits (sick day benefits, benefits for second and third child), repealing the pension reform, guarantee access to healthcare for all, lower the prices paid for prescription drugs and improve education. It also pledged to renegotiate the church restitution agreement, to reduce the amount paid.
That platform, however, was overshadowed by a very public civil war raging inside the party, a conflict sowed by Zeman. Party leader Bohuslav Sobotka, 2013 presidential candidate Jiří Dienstbier Jr and Lubomír Zaorálek are from the party’s liberal wing (supportive of environmental protection, civil liberties), which is also the anti-Zeman wing. The ČSSD’s deputy leader, Michal Hašek (who is also governor of South Moravia) or former labour minister Zdeněk Škromach represent a conservative and pro-Zeman wing. Sobotka has faced strong internal opposition, and he is backed by only a thin majority of his party – at the party congress in March, Sobotka was reelected with only 85 out of 151 votes (56%). During the campaign, some regional delegates unsuccessfully tried to topple Sobotka. In early September, some ČSSD members – including the mayor of Ostrava, the third largest city, protested their exclusion from the list of candidates.
The ODS entered the campaign in an even worse shape: the party is facing a huge internal crisis and popular support for the party is at an all-time low. The ODS’ 12.3% in the 2012 regional elections was not, as I thought back then, the bottom for them: after Nečas’ resignation, the party’s support collapsed below 10%. The ODS was discredited in voters eyes because of the poor economic record, the corruption scandal, the clientelism within the party and internal turmoil. Some members wanted former President Václav Klaus to return, while some of Klaus’ supporters founded a party in the hope of attracting him as their leader (he did not run). With Nečas facing trial, the ODS is now led by interim leader Martin Kuba and vice-chair Miroslava Němcová.
TOP 09′s support declined consistently between 2010 and 2012, and it won only 6.6% in the 2012 regional elections. However, the party received a major boost in the polls with Schwarzenberg’s presidential candidacy (and his strong first round result), briefly throwing them back up over 15%. TOP 09 also benefited from the ODS’ collapse to take leadership of the right (surpassed the ODS in polls). The party ran a strongly anti-Zeman campaign, arguing that they were the only party who defended the parliamentary system and would stand up to Zeman and the threat of authoritarianism. Kalousek argued that Zeman wants to establish an autocratic regime. On other issues, TOP 09′s platform was pro-European – it wants Prague to ratify the European Fiscal Compact, which the Czech Republic did not ratify in 2012. The party also wants to limit the budget deficit to 0.5% of GDP.
As always, Schwarzenberg was the public leader and mascot of TOP 09 in this campaign. TOP 09 has been trying to promote him with young voters, beginning with the “punk Karel” image during the presidential campaign, and now with other pretty shameless bids to build up up their mascot’s image with younger voters.
The KSČM has been performing well in polls since 2011, polling in the 15-20% range. As noted above, the Communists placed second overall in the October 2012 regional elections, with over 20% of the vote, and the KSČM formed regional governing coalitions with the ČSSD in 10 of 13 regions. While the party remains committed, on paper, to the creation of a socialist state, the party’s platform was nothing too crazy: anti-corruption, quality education, job creation, a 14,000 CZK minimum wage, a gradual return to pre-2007 VAT rates (19%/5%), a progressive income and corporate tax, a referendum on church restitution, a minimum pension, public health insurance and sustainable development. Its more contentious policies remain on foreign policy: the Communists want to withdraw from NATO and mention abolishing NATO as a long-term goal; they are also anti-EU.
As a result of their exclusion from governance, the KSČM has not been in power and as a result it hasn’t been involved in any major corruption scandals. As such, the KSČM can claim, with some credibility, to be a ‘clean hands’ party and benefits from the governing parties’ involvement in corruption scandals.
The KDU-ČSL, which lost all its seats in 2010, performed slightly better in elections in 2010 and 2012. The party’s leader is Pavel Bělobrádek, a fairly young guy who has never served in Parliament in the past. Its platform mostly consisted of pablum such as strengthening the economy, job creation, increasing child benefits, fiscal responsibility, ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption and opposing the privatization of healthcare.
The Party of Civic Rights-Zemanovci (Strana Práv Občanů – Zemanovci, SPOZ) is President Zeman’s party, which he founded when he left the ČSSD in 2009. SPOZ won 4.3% of the votes in 2010, coming very close to winning seats in Palriament. It has basically functioned as personal vehicle for Zeman, although the party’s support is much lower than Zeman’s personal support as the presidential election revealed. Zeman, ironically, made a pledge not to interfere in party politics when he was elected earlier this year, but Zeman still controls the party although he naturally didn’t run in this election.
Three ministers from Rusnok’s cabinet ran for the SPOZ, as did the controversial lobbyist and Zeman’s close associate Miroslav Šlouf.
Of lesser relevance is the Green Party (Strana zelených, SZ), founded in 1989 and which enjoyed brief electoral success in 2006 when it won 6 seats. The Czech Greens have tended to be more liberal and centrist/centre-right than most other European green parties: while their positions on environmental issues are seen as left-wing in the country, they have more right-wing positions on other issues (reducing the tax burden and labour costs, deregulation of rents, user fees in healthcare). After all, the Greens governed in coalition with the right between 2006 and 2009.
After their success in 2006, the Greens found themselves, once again, torn apart by internal conflict between their right and left wings. This led to their defeat in 2010, when the Greens won only 2.4% of the vote. Now led by Ondřej Liška, the Greens have shifted to the left with more anti-nuclear rhetoric or opposition to austerity. Former Green leader and former environment minister Martin Bursík left SZ earlier this year and founded his own green liberal party.
One of the factors which has changed the Czech party system in recent years has been the rapid emergence of new political parties, most of them vaguely populist and anti-corruption movements centered around a charismatic figure. VV filled that role in 2010. In this election, there were two new major populist movements: ANO 2011 and Úsvit.
ANO 2011 - ‘Ano’ meaning yes but also standing as an abbreviation for “Action of dissatisfied citizens” – was founded in 2012 by Andrej Babiš, a Czech businessman of Slovak origin who is also the second richest man in the Czech Republic.
Andrej Babiš, who was born in Bratislava (Slovakia) in 1954, worked for a foreign trade company owned by the Communist Party in Morocco during the communist regime before becoming the managing director of Agrofert in 1993. Agrofert is one of the largest companies in the Czech Republic (its assets are valued at 96.2 billion CZK, it employs some 28,000 employees and owns 1.6% of all agricultural land in the country. It is a major holding company which controls various agricultural , food processing and chemical companies. Babiš himself has a net worth of $2 billion.
Babiš claims he started his party when he “got angry” and bought newspaper ads to mobilize people against corruption and government mismanagement. Originally claiming he only wanted to sponsor ANO at first, he later took control of the party himself and promptly expelled rebels who later claimed Babiš was behaving like a dictator and running the party as his personal business project. Since then, Babiš has apparently been more careful at accepting members and candidates (promoting celebrities).
In June 2013, Agrofert bought MAFRA, the largest Czech media group which owns two popular daily newspapers (Mladá fronta DNES, Lidové noviny), three TV stations and two radio stations. Babiš’ expansion into the media led to concerns that he was becoming the “Czech Silvio Berlusconi”. There are some similarities with Silvio Berlusconi, particularly Berlusconi’s entrance into politics in 1993-1994. Like Berlusconi, Babiš has come into politics from a lucrative career in business and based his political appeal on a right-wing populist rejection of the established party system and its corrupt ways (although both are certainly corrupt themselves). Unlike Berlusconi, however, Babiš lacked a media empire and control of the airwaves.
Late in the campaign, two archived documents from the Slovak Institute of National Remembrance surfaced and alleged that Babiš was a collaborator and later an agent in the communist secret police (StB). On October 18, a Slovak newspaper published a document apparently corroborating Babiš’ secret police ties. Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09) called Babiš a communist informer, while Babiš has flatly denied all accussations saying he never signed an agent contract in Bratislava in 1982 and has sued the Slovak Institute of National Remembrance. In any case, what is certain is that Babiš was a member of the KSČ before 1989 – membership in the party was necessary to be part of the management of a state-owned company
Not much is known about ANO’s stances on the issues. It is anti-corruption, anti-establishment and most of its campaign has either been based on rejection of politicians or the idea that the Czech Republic should be run like a business. As such, it is a fairly right-wing party. Its platform also claims that the state is not “a good manager” and fails at providing services. Its other planks are rather vague: employing more graduates, seniors and disabled persons; fighting tax evasion; transparency; reforming government procurement and bidding; reducing the VAT; investments in infrastructure and simple rules for investors and business. Its anti-corruption proposal seem fairly straightforward on paper: abolishing parliamentary immunity and forcing elected officials to electronically publish their assets when they take office.
Tomio Okamura’s Dawn of Direct Democracy (Úsvit přímé demokracie Tomia Okamury), often referred to as Úsvit, is the other new populist party. Úsvit was founded in 2013 by Tomio Okamura, a Czech-Japanese businessman/entrepreneur and senator.
Okamura, who is 41, was born in Japan to a Japanese father and a Czech (Moravian) mother and moved to Czechoslovakia when he was six, although he worked for nine years of his youth in Japan. Okamura made his money in the hospitality/travel industry, notably serving as vice-president of the Czech association of travel agencies. He also served as director of a major travel agency in Prague and owned shares in various hospitality or travel businesses. Okamura is something of an eccentric and idiosyncratic businessman; some of his past ventures have included a travel agency for stuffed animals and a clothing store selling fashion for Czech women who wanted to dress like young Japanese schoolgirls. Okamura also developed a strong presence in the media, as a spokesman for the travel industry, a co-author of two books (one of which was a best seller) and as a star on the Czech version of Dragon’s Den.
Okamura entered politics last year, when he ran for Senate as an independent candidate in Zlín. He won 30.3% in the first round and easily defeated a ČSSD candidate in the runoff with 66% of the vote. Around the same time, he announced a presidential candidacy and submitted over 61,000 signatures from citizens (50,000 were required to run), but was disqualified when only 35.7k signatures were cleared – the court determined that a lot of his signatures were fictitious. His countless appeals and melodramatic protests were unsuccessful. In May 2013, he created his own party.
Okamura’s ideology is even vaguer than ANO. He has praised communism and socialism, but others have also called his movement “proto-fascist”. As the party’s names indicates, the party’s main issue is the promotion of direct democracy and a radical change in the political system. The party’s platform calls for the use of referenda and initiatives along the Swiss model; the direct election of deputies (presumably FPTP), mayors and governors; the possibility to recall elected officials and a presidential system. His economic and fiscal proposals are clearly right-wing: a ‘cost-effective public sector’, reducing the VAT, a moratorium on tax changes for 3 years, supporting entrepreneurs and business owners to create jobs, opposition to affirmative action/positive discrimination and balanced budgets. Úsvit takes a very tough line against “a layer of people who do not like to work, do not know the words obligation and responsibility and terrorize neighborhoods with crime”. It blames the social system for supporting these people while ‘bullying’ and ‘humiliating’ ”law-abiding citizens who find themselves in need”. As such, it wants to limit social benefits to these responsible people who lead a “decent life” and “raise their children properly”. The movement is also critical of the EU and immigration.
Okamura ran into some trouble over the summer when he said that the ‘gypsies’ should be “democratically” sent to India (the ‘land of their ancestors’) to create their own state, like Israel. He couched this controversial statement in the language of the right to self-determination. He also said, in that same interviews, that the Roma are to blame if they face discrimination and racism, it is primarily their own fault. Groups representing the Roma people have called Okamura racist and far-right/neo-fascist.
Naturally, Úsvit is – on paper – very much anti-corruption and the platform is filled with populist outrage over corrupt politicians, corruption and mismanagement. That stuff rings a bit hollow, however, when you consider that VV, now led by the arch-corrupt Vit Bárta, allied with Okamura. Vit Bárta was Úsvit’s top candidate in Plzeň region.
Úsvit is a very wide coalition: besides the remnants of VV, it also includes ODS and other parties’ dissidents, anti-government demonstrators and the regionalist Moravané (Moravians). Okamura, who is of Moravian descent, has proclaimed his Moravian identity a few times and played up his Moravian cultural roots (by wearing Moravian folk costumes, for example).
Turnout was 59.48%, down from 62.6% in 2010. This is the lowest turnout in a legislative election since 2002, when turnout had crashed to only 58% from 74% in 1998. This is fairly significant: the 2002 election was another high point of anti-system sentiments four years after the ‘opposition agreement’ and the first signs that politics were turning into a dirty, corrupt game limited to a closed circle of political elites and their friends and financiers in big business and lobbying firms. Turnout increased in the 2006 election (64.5%), a more polarized contest with a clear-cut division between Paroubek’s ČSSD and the ODS, but it fell to 62.6% in the last election.
Turnout has been even lower in recent ‘lower stakes’ election at the regional level or for the Senate: turnout in the 2012 regional elections was 36.9%, down from 40% in 2008.
ČSSD 20.45% (-1.63%) winning 50 seats (-6)
ANO 2011 18.65% (+18.65%) winning 47 seats (+47)
KSČM 14.91% (+3.64%) winning 33 seats (+7)
TOP 09 11.99% (-4.71%) winning 26 seats (-15)
ODS 7.72% (-12.5%) winning 16 seats (-37)
Úsvit 6.88% (+6.88%) winning 14 seats (+14)
KDU-ČSL 6.78% (+2.39%) winning 14 seats (+14)
Greens 3.19% (+0.73%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 2.66% (+1.86%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Party of Free Citizens 2.46% (+1.74%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SPOZ 1.51% (-2.82%) winning 0 seats (nc)
DSSS 0.86% (-0.24%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.81% (-3.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Czech elections reflected, far and above anything else, voters’ deep-seated dissatisfaction (and outright anger) with with the political system, which is associated with corruption, mismanagement and a poor economy. While the ČSSD won the most votes, their result was unexpectedly terrible – very much a Pyrrhic victory for them, the second in a row after the 2010 election. Instead, the main winners of this election were new populist parties – and the main losers were the two old parties, the ČSSD and especially the ODS.
Czech politics are in a long-term crisis. Since 2002, almost every Prime Minister from either of the major parties have had their own corruption scandals. A number of senior politicians in all the major parties have also been involved in corruption scandal. It is common knowledge that politicians have close relations with businessmen and lobbyists (if they are not businessmen themselves), and that they more often than not govern to please these powerful interests who return the favour by providing their campaigns and parties with hefty financial support. Politicians and corrupt senior bureaucrats are said to take their share of money from the bidding in government contracts. Voters, to put it simply, no longer trust the established political parties and the politicians. This is not a recent development, but the past three years have very much reinforced these sentiments: widespread corruption at the highest levels, corrupt politicians in the public spotlight all topped off with an economic crisis, unpopular austerity and cuts to social programs.
The ČSSD has more or less managed to lose two elections in which they had been the runaway favourites for a long period of time beforehand. In 2010, the ČSSD did poorly (22% of the vote) and was unable to form a centre-left government despite having won large victories over the centre-right in the 2008 regional elections. This year, the ČSSD had a sizable lead in polls dating back to early 2011 and even during the campaign, the ČSSD was generally between 24% and 28% in the (notoriously unreliable) polls. At any rate, the ČSSD expected to win somewhere close to 70 or so seats, which would allow it to form a minority government with KSČM support – a sentiment which was shared by most observers at the time. Even during the campaign, even if the ČSSD and KSČM saw their support fall during the course of the campaign, a ČSSD minority government was still seen as the most likely outcome. After the fact, the ČSSD and KSČM won only 83 seats (101 required for a majority), due entirely to the ČSSD’s terrible result.
The ČSSD ran a poor campaign in which its internal squabbles overshadowed its platform or any appeal it might have had as the main alternative to the right. The publicized internal crisis in the party reinforced widespread perceptions that party politicians are self-serving and self-interested committed to their personal well-being and comfort rather than the national interest. The ČSSD was also a victim of the political mood, which is disdainful of the established major parties and totally fed up with the political system. The ČSSD has also been hurt by corruption, even if it has been in opposition nationally since 2006, and few voters likely associate ČSSD with major change or renewal.
The ČSSD and ODS, which have dominated Czech politics for almost two decades, won only 28.17% of the vote together. In 2010, by no means a good year for either parties, they had still won 42.3%. In 2006, a polarized contest, they won over two-thirds of the vote to themselves. These numbers, again, speak for themselves. The total collapse of the two traditional parties reflects record-high dissatisfaction with the political system and the old parties.
Most upheaval, however, took place on the right. The main winners were new right-wing populist parties: Andrej Babiš’ ANO 2011 placed second with a remarkable 18.7% of the vote, while Tomio Okamura’s Úsvit managed a respectable 6.9%, just a bit below the showing of the hitherto dominant right-wing party, ODS. Together, these two new populist parties on the right won 25.53%, which is more than the combined sum of TOP 09 and ODS (19.71%) or that of the ‘winning’ party (ČSSD with 20.5%).
The ODS was the major loser of this election. To put its defeat into context and to emphasize what this all means: only seven years ago, the ODS won 35% of the vote and although it won a paltry 20% in 2010, it nevertheless retained its dominance of the Czech right. The party had the bad luck of being the ones who got caught with their paws in the cookie jar (a lot of parties often put their paws in the cookie jar, of course) when everybody was watching. The ODS, however, was hardly in better shape before the Nagyová scandal destroyed the party. In the regional elections a year ago, they won only 12% of the vote and the ODS’ no-name candidate won like 2% of the vote in the presidential election in January. Prior to the scandal, the ODS had already been hit by other corruption scandals and it was closely tied to Petr Nečas’ unpopular government – seen as ineffective on corruption issues and behind unpopular austerity measures and the bad economy. The Nagyová scandal not only ruined whatever reputation it still had left, but also left the party without much leadership. The ODS’ low-key campaign in this election consisted of running away from its brand. Its main billboard ads, for example, consisted of a horrible Twitter slogan: “#Volím_pravici” (vote for the right), including, yes, the hashtags and underscore. The billboards didn’t even include the ODS’ logo, although they did include the Twitter logo!
TOP 09 had somewhat better luck. Although it too saw its support decline fairly significantly since the last election, winning only 12% of the vote compared to 16.7% in 2010. However, the party has managed to establish itself as the main ‘traditional’ party on the right, ahead of the ODS. The party was likely held in large part thanks to Karel Schwarzenberg’s personal popularity and the publicity his presidential campaign, even if ultimately unsuccessful, attracted for the party – especially with younger voters.
ANO 2011, the main winner of this election, owes its success to widespread disillusionment with the political class, a well-financed and well-run campaign and a generic, vague anti-corruption platform of the same kind which had carried VV to relative success in the last election. After all, in large part ANO 2011 ran on the idea that they were not politicians – but businessmen, journalists and other celebrities or regular citizens – who “worked” and could do a better job running the country than the politicians. Apparently, the concerns over Babiš’ behaviour during communist rule or his very vague platform largely copied from other parties with the addition of generic anti-corruption and anti-tax stances, did not rattle its potential supporters much.
Voters expressed that they are fed up with politics, corruption and the poor economy. Czech sculptor David Černý conveyed his country’s visceral anger towards the political class when he installed a large purple sculpture of a hand pointing the middle finger on a barge in the Vltava River in Prague overlooking the presidential residence, the Prague Castle.
The KSČM did fairly well, although perhaps not as well as it might have expected. It did not break its 2002 record (18.5% of the vote) or its 2012 regional result (20%). The party, which is an attractive protest option for some voters on the left who are not repelled by the party’s baggage, likely gained some votes from dissatisfied left-wing voters. There isn’t much to say about the KSČM in the end: foreign observers always tend to express shock at KSČM successes at the polls or over-dramatize its meaning, when in the end this is a party which has done similarly well in the past (2000, 2002, 2004) and which can be counted on to perform well whenever the ČSSD is unpopular or discredited (2000/2002: opposition agreement, 2004: unpopular ČSSD government in power, 2012: ČSSD’s weak performance in opposition and recently hurt by David Rath’s corruption scandal). Its success in this election owes to similar factors. Some media reports noted that the KSČM had been somewhat successful in attracting younger voters to the fold; voters so burnt out by the corruption and the decrepit political class that they were willing to give the KSČM a chance.
Higher turnout than in the 2012 regional elections, in which the Communists had done very well, may also explain the party’s weaker result in this election. The party has an old, stable, motivated and loyal base of supporters who increase the party’s share of the vote in lower-turnout elections (such as regional elections). Indeed, the KSČM won far more votes in this election (741,044) than in 2012 (538,953) although less than in 2002.
The KDU-ČSL, not noticed by many, managed to reenter the Chamber some three years after it lost all its seats in a disastrous election. The party likely picked up some former ODS voters. While the party is not very strong, the KDU-ČSL – like the Communists – have managed to survive because they have strong infrastructure at the grassroots level; the party, like the Communists, have a very large number of members (although, again, a lot of them are old and inactive in party activities) and it has retained a strong electoral base at all levels of government in Moravia.
One surprise in this election was SPOZ’ poor performance. President Zeman’s personality appreciation machine not only failed to enter Parliament, it won significantly less votes than it had in 2010 (4.3%). After Zeman’s election earlier this year, SPOZ’ support in the polls increased, often over the 5% threshold, and many predicted that they would have a good chance of winning seats in this election. As such, this is a surprising rebuke for President Zeman, who will not have the luxury of having his own personal vehicle represented in Parliament.
Hlavu vzhůru, a list endorsed by former President Václav Klaus, won only 0.42% of the vote. The neo-Nazi and anti-Roma Workers’ Party (DSSS) did poorly, winning only 0.9% of the vote (they had won 1.1% in 2010).
Here is an excellent map of the results down the very micro municipal (district in Prague) level, with the ability to generate individual maps for the major parties and compare to results of past elections since 1996.
What is quite striking, although not necessarily all that surprising, is the extent to which ANO 2011′s support patterns coincides with the traditional geographic base of the right (ODS, ODS+TOP 09 in 2010) in the past elections. With one, however, significant exception: ANO 2011 performed relatively poorly in Prague, the traditional bastion of the right. It won 16.5% of the vote in the national capital, below its national average. Within the city, the party’s support was lowest in the wealthier districts of the city centre: 11.8% in Prague-1, the prestigious Medieval old town. TOP 09 topped the poll in Prague with 23% of the vote, by far its best result. It did best in the city’s most affluent districts.
This link provides correlation graphs between the parties in Prague, as well as a great map of results by precincts in the city. TOP 09 and ANO, as well as the Greens and ANO, showed a fairly marked negative correlation in Prague. ANO did best, glancing at precinct results, in outlying neighborhoods and in some neighborhoods with densely packed communist-era apartment blocks.
Karel Schwarzenberg helped out the party in Prague (and the country in general). Standing as TOP 09′s top candidate in Prague, Schwarzenberg won 37,794 preference votes, or 28% of all ballots cast for TOP 09 in the city. Miroslav Kalousek, in contrast, won only 10,246 preference votes as the top candidate in Central Bohemia.
On the other hand, the party also performed well in North Bohemia (not generally a right-wing stronghold): its top two regional results were 21.3% in Karlovy Vary Region and Ústí nad Labem/Ústecký Region. North Bohemia is a traditional industrial area (mining) which has the highest unemployment rates in the region and a “newer” population – most residents settled in the region after 1945, following the expulsion of Sudeten Germans. It has provided a political base for the far-right in the past, and it remains one of the KSČM’s strongest regions (already in 1946, the KSČ had performed best in the former Sudetenland, especially North Bohemia).
ANO 2011 was likely boosted by its alliance with Severočeši.cz (North Bohemians.cz), a local party which holds two seats in the Senate and won 12% in the 2012 regional elections in Ústí nad Labem. Allied with ANO 2011 in Ústí nad Labem region, S.cz elected two of its candidates to the Chamber.
There seems to be a fairly solid (albeit not perfect) correlation between strong support for ANO 2011 and towns where Agrofert owns a company. One particular result piqued my interest: ANO 2011 won 32% of the vote (which is huge) in Lovosice (Ústí nad Labem), which apparently has a major agricultural fertilizers industry – and Agrofert owns two companies in that city. A blog post on Ihned.cz looked at the links between ANO’s results and Agrofert companies. In a lot of smaller towns in which Agrofert is the main employer, ANO did very well: Valašské Meziříčí, 26%; Chropyně, 23%; Napajedla, 27%; Přerov, 24%; Hlinsko, 24%; Kostelec, 30%; Hustopeče, 22%. Ihned found that out of 40 towns with Agrofert companies, ANO placed first or second in all but four of them. In Průhonice, a town located just outside of Prague in which Babiš has invested a lot of money, ANO won 31% of the vote. The article cited above mentioned how locals said that they appreciated Babiš because he provided jobs, offered job security and took good care of his employees.
That being said, ANO 2011′s support seems to have been fairly evenly distributed: its support ranged from 16% to 21.5% in all fourteen regions.
The excellent Datablog on the Ihned website did some basic vote transfer analysis. It shows that most of ANO’s supporters had backed right-wingers in 2010: 22.6% voted ODS, 19.2% voted VV and 18.9% voted TOP 09. About 23% had not voted in 2010, and 11.2% had backed other parties. However, very few of ANO’s voters came over from the left: only 4.3% from the ČSSD and 0.7% from KSČM. The ČSSD largely lost votes to the Communists (15.1% of the KSČM’s 2013 voters had voted ČSSD in 2010) or Okamura’s Úsvit (12.2% of his voters had backed the ČSSD in 2010).
Úsvit voters mostly came from VV (27.7%) or other parties (24.8%, including the KDU-ČSL). 15% came from the ODS, but only 5.8% came from TOP 09.
The ODS lost a lot of votes to TOP 09: about a third of TOP 09′s supporters in this election had voted for the ODS in 2010 (about 189,600 voters). Therefore, TOP 09 lost a lot of voters to ANO (about 175,150) and other parties (about 122,000 votes) but gained a lot from the ODS.
The KSČM also did best in Ústí nad Labem region (20.3%). The party’s map is rather similar to the map of the pre-1945 German population in the Czech Republic (Sudetenland), with the exception of Liberec. Following World War II, the Czechoslovak government controversially expelled the German population from the Sudetenland, and these territories were extensively resettled with Czechs or Slovaks. In North Bohemia, many of these new settlers came to work in the region’s mines and heavy industry. Territories which were resettled after World War II have long been Communist strongholds: in the 1946 election, the last semi-free election before communist rule, the Communist Party’s support was closely correlated to the former Sudetenland and areas of pre-war German population. Resettlement, of course, meant major social upheaval and the construction of a new, completely different social structure than in the past. Settlers must also have felt some kind of indebtedness for newly acquired property, and certainly were very hostile to subsequent German demands for reparations, compensations or right of return. The KSČ and today the KSČM have taken strongly nationalist and anti-German stances. Earlier this year, for example, the KSČM strongly condemned a speech given by then-Prime Minister Petr Nečas in Munich in which he expressed regret for the wrongs caused by the population transfers.
This blog post, in Czech, looked at the results in the former German Sudetenland. The KSČM won 18.2% of the vote in the former Sudetenland, compared to 14.2% in the rest of the country. Protest parties also did better in the former Sudetenland: ANO also did about 2% better, Úsvit won 7.9% (6.7% in the rest of the country); TOP 09, ODS and especially the KDU-ČSL all did worse in the Sudetenland. TOP 09 won 9.6% in the former German territories, but took 12.5% in the rest of the country. TOP 09′s results across the country seem to reflect an affluent, well-educated and economically successful population (notably small-business owners and entrepreneurs); therefore it is unsurprising that TOP 09 would perform poorly in the former Sudetenland, which is poorer than the rest of the country. TOP 09 also did poorly in the industrialized mining basin of Moravian Silesia.
The KDU-ČSL won 4% in the former German territories, but won 7.4% in the rest of the country. The KDU-ČSL’s significantly lower results in the former Sudetenland is striking in the Olomouc Region, as the aforementioned blog article found: looking at the map of the KDU-ČSL’s result in the Rýmařov and Bruntál regions of northern Moravia/Silesia. As the map to the left shows, the party’s results are significantly lower in towns which were largely German until 1945. In this same region (Nízký Jeseník), economically depressed and resettled after 1945, the KSČM did very well in a lot of small villages.
In North Bohemia, the KSČM’s best results came not from the largest industrial cities or even the major mining centres, but rather from small towns and rural areas. In other regions where the KSČM did well, the patterns appear to be rather similar: the KSČM didn’t do extremely well in more populous towns, but they did very well in smaller towns and rural areas. I would suppose that these rural areas have an older population (hence the higher propensity to support the KSČM) and political traditions might still play a role.
The above blog article also emphasized the role of comparative economic deprivation in strong KSČM results. One region where this certainly appears to be true is Liberec Region. It is something of a right-wing stronghold: TOP 09 did quite well in the region, winning 15.2% of the vote – to be fair, TOP 09′s strength might have a lot to do with its alliance with a local party, Mayors for Liberec Region (SLK) which actually won the 2012 regional elections. Nevertheless, the region has tended to be economically stronger than other Sudetenland regions, which are more deprived (high unemployment, social tensions due to a high Roma population in North Bohemia, poor economy). Liberec and Jablonec are large urban areas (which is generally favourable, on balance, to the right-wing parties in the Czech Republic), and the Communists only won about 11% of the vote in both of those cities. However, in the same region, the KSČM did very well in the area around Frýdlant (Frýdlantská pahorkatina/Jizera mountains), an economically depressed region with high unemployment. The Communists won 18.3% in Frýdlant itself and did even better in small towns, winning upwards of 25-30%.
A basic analysis comparing various demographic indicators to the election results found some interesting results, although correlation does not equal causation. In municipalities with high unemployment, the KSČM won 21.5% of the vote, placing a strong second behind the ČSSD (23.3%). TOP 09 (6.4%) and the ODS (4.9%) performed worse in areas with high unemployment, while Úsvit did better (8.2%). In areas with low unemployment (Prague area, major urban areas in Central Bohemia, Plzeň, České Budějovice, Hradec Králové), TOP 09 won the most votes with 19.9%, against 17.7% for ANO, 16.3% for the ČSSD and only 10.8% for the Communists (basically tied with the ODS, which won 10.7%). In towns with low population density, the Communists won 20.6% of the vote, only a few points behind the Social Democrats (21.4%). TOP 09 and the ODS, again, did significantly worse in these less populous villages. From these indicators, one party whose vote share varied little was ANO: it did not do significantly better or worse in any kind of town by these selected indicators. Like a protest party, drawing from everywhere?
By far, the ČSSD’s best region was Moravia-Silesia (26.4%) and the party won 31.8% of the vote in Karviná district – a major coal mining basin. Outside the solidly leftist mining basin of Czech Silesia and solidly right-wing Prague, the ČSSD’s support was fairly homogeneously spread throughout the country. It did more poorly in Liberec region (16.9%) and Central Bohemia (18.4%).
The KDU-ČSL’s support is heavily concentrated in Moravia, winning over 10% of the vote in Vysočina, South Moravia and Zlín regions. Moravia, poorer, more rural and more clerical than Bohemia, has long been a stronghold of ‘Catholic clerical’ parties – the ČSL’s support during the First Republic was largely Moravian, the KSČ did poorly in Moravia in the 1946 election (and the ČSL did well) and the KDU-ČSL, after 1990, managed to retain a lot of that rural, Catholic Moravian support. As noted above, the KDU-ČSL did very poorly in the former German territories. This likely means that, after 1990, the KDU-ČSL did well where it inherited a strong interwar ČSL tradition. In German areas, voters in the interwar years had backed German parties and Czech parties like the ČSL (among others) had little footing if any.
Úsvit’s support was quite evenly distributed as well: outside of Prague (only 3.2%) and Zlín (10.2%), its support in other regions varied between 5.5% and 8%. VV leader Vit Bárta was unable to win reelection standing as Úsvit’s top candidate in the Plzeň region; however, VV members won three seats standing on Úsvit’s lists.
This election has not ended the political crisis in the Czech Republic. Far from it, it has only prolonged it further. The ČSSD had been expecting (and was expected) to win some 65-70 seats, which would have allowed it to form a minority government with KSČM support. Instead, the ČSSD won only fifty seats, and a ČSSD-KSČM government would have only 83 seats.
One party has upset all these plans: ANO 2011. The party’s major success at the polls means that their support is very much crucial to any future government. However, Babiš isn’t too hot on the idea of participating in a coalition government. Before the election, he repeatedly said that his movement would help pass “good laws” in opposition rather than being in government, and he more or less reiterated that on the day following the election. He had ruled out working in government with either ODS or TOP 09, seeing those parties as bywords for corruption. There are also significant tensions between Babiš’ new party and the ‘old parties’ of the right, especially TOP 09. Therefore, we can rule out a coalition of right-wing parties (ANO, TOP 09, ODS, KDU-ČSL), which would had only a tenuous 103 seat majority anyhow.
ANO’s results and its impact on the election result means that Babiš’ earlier hopes to remain out of government and to be a ‘constructive opposition’ are unsustainable.
Babiš’ relations with the ČSSD do not seem all that good; the ČSSD (unwisely) dismissed ANO as a commercial party and Babiš has cited significant policy differences with the centre-left, notably on taxation. After the election, Babiš prided himself in saying that he had contributed to the defeat of the left. However, the policy differences do not seem too big to overcome: both parties pledged to reduce the VAT, scrap the healthcare user fees or introduce new anti-corruption measures. Perhaps the most likely government which could be formed now is a ČSSD-led government with the participation or external support of ANO and the KDU-ČSL. Such a coalition would hold 111 seats, which would still make for an extremely unstable government.
For the time being, the situation is further complicated by the nasty infighting within the ČSSD. ČSSD voters contributed to the internal crisis in the party: party leader Sobotka and his pro-Zeman rival Michal Hašek both ran on the party’s list in the South Moravia region. Michal Hašek won more preferential votes than Sobotka, raking in some 25,531 preference votes against 22,175 preference votes for the incumbent ČSSD chairman. After the election, the crisis within the party has worsened. A day after the election (and after having met with Zeman), rebels led by Michal Hašek voted to exclude Sobotoka from the negotiating team and called on him to resign, outraging Sobotka and his allies who spoke of a ‘putsch’ and refused to resign. Since then, Hašek’s pro-Zeman negotiating team fell apart and a new team, led by Sobotka, was established on Wednesday last week. However, Sobotka’s negotiating team is only making courtesy contacts with other parties; the real negotiations will start after the ČSSD’s executive resolves the leadership question on November 10.
Hašek has the backing of about 22 ČSSD MPs, against 18 for the incumbent leader and ten sitting on the fence. The nasty infighting in the largest party further complicates government formation and creates the threat that the country’s last remaining ‘credible’ governing party could fall apart.
The situation is further complicated by President Miloš Zeman, the wildcard in all this – and very much a crucial player. Zeman is responsible for nominating a Prime Minister, although the constitution imposes no time limits for the nomination of a Prime Minister and Zeman is probably in no hurry to make his decision before the ČSSD’s crisis has been resolved. In the meantime, Zeman’s presidential cabinet (Rusnok) will remain in place as a caretaker government, giving Zeman a hand in the day-to-day ruling of the country.
Normally, the President would nominate the leader of the largest party (or the leader of the party which could assemble a coalition) to the office of Prime Minister and that would be that. However, it’s clear that Zeman isn’t a normal President. He has already indicated that he may not choose to nominate the leader of the largest party (Sobotka); instead, Zeman said that he would name a ‘representative’ from the party which won the most votes. Zeman has already intervened in the post-election crisis. On Saturday October 26, the ČSSD rebels led by Hašek met with Zeman. In an interview he gave on Sunday October 27, Zeman said that Sobotka should resign because of the ČSSD’s poor showing. It is quite clear that Zeman would like to nominate somebody like Hašek as Prime Minister. It would provide him with a friendlier government, which he could hope to influence.
Regardless of what government is patched together on these numbers, what seems rather certain is that the next government will be very unstable. It will be hard to get a stable government when it is dependent on the backing of ANO 2011, a brand new populist party whose ideology is uncertain and whose capacity to survive after an election is also quite uncertain (see the example of VV’s rapid collapse). Karel Schwarzenberg and ODS leader Miroslava Němcová have both already stated that they think that there will be new elections, within one or two years according to Schwarzenberg. Zeman has said that he opposes new elections, and called on politicians – including himself – to take their responsibilities and ensure the formation of a stable government. However, an unstable government, especially if it is led by the pro-Zeman wing of the ČSSD, would likely be very weak in the face of the increasingly powerful presidency. As such, the upcoming political instability only strengthens Zeman. Therefore, even if Zeman’s horse in the race (SPOZ) did very poorly, he can still be considered as one of the major winners of this election.
How will Czech politics, currently in a state of flux, evolve in the coming years? Will the ČSSD and ODS, the two old major parties which both did terribly in this election, reinvent themselves in a way which is more appealing to an electorate which is fed up with the old party system and corruption? Will the ODS ever be able to regain its dominance of the right, having been upset not only by TOP 09 but also ANO in this election? What will become of the two new populist parties which emerged in this election? Few are predicting a long future for Úsvit, an unstable and fractious party made up of diverse elements and with an appeal resting on very vague nations of ‘direct democracy’ and nationalistic sentiments. Most expect Okamura’s party to collapse within a few years. However, what will become of Babiš’ ANO? Will the party, especially if it is compelled to enter government, go the way of VV and collapse in scandal and dissension within a few years? ANO’s appeal might very well wear off, and the party’s relatively vague ideology could come back to haunt it. On the other hand, ANO seems like it is built on a more solid footing than VV was; Babiš appears to be a stronger, more determined leader who is committed to building a party organization and hopes to entrench his party as a major party in the new, unpredictable game of Czech politics. In short, could Babiš actually become the Czech Berlusconi; the charismatic tycoon who builds his own party (around himself), leads it to success at the polls and weathers tougher times to become a mainstay in his country’s political system.
The Czech Republic may very well have lived a realigning election, which marks the fall of the relatively stable and straightforward (left-right) party system which had predominated between 1996 and 2010 (2010 could be seen as a ‘transition’ election to a new party system) and the rise of a new party system, one in which new populist parties led by tycoons or other charismatic figures (less closely tied to traditional ideologies) compete with the remaining ‘older’ ideological parties (and also one in which a president is intent on imposing his own stamp on the political system).
The second round of direct presidential elections were held in the Czech Republic on January 25-26, 2013. The President serves a five-year term, renewable once. Although often described as a ceremonial head of state, the President does have a few significant powers. The President has veto power over legislation, although the legislature can override a veto. The President also appoints judges to the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, may dissolve the Chamber of Deputies under certain circumstances and has shared authority with the Prime Minister over foreign policy, the use of the military, the appointment of lower court judges, and the granting of amnesty. Until 2012, the President was indirectly elected by members of both houses of Parliament in a convoluted process open to corruption and back-room political deals. This was the first time that Czech voters directly elected their President. I covered the first round here.
Two colourful candidates qualified for the runoff two weeks ago. Miloš Zeman, a former Social Democratic (ČSSD) Prime Minister between 1998 and 2001 who has since broken with his party, won 24.2%. Karel Schwarzenberg, a wealthy Bohemian aristocrat who is the country’s foreign minister in the centre-right government, won 23.4%.
Both candidates are colourful personalities; Zeman is noted for his sharp and often insulting wit, his populist demeanor and his controversial views on issues such as climate change or Muslims. As Prime Minister, he helped modernize the country and guided the country towards eventual EU membership in 2004. However, his confidence and supply agreement with the centre-right ODS in 1998, then led by Václav Klaus, now the outgoing President, has been controversial. Many see the deal between the two dominant parties, ČSSD and ODS, as the deal which entrenched links between big business interests and the two major parties. The country has struggled with endemic political corruption. Zeman was endorsed by Václav Klaus, the outgoing centre-right President (in office since 2003), a controversial figure known for his outspoken opposition to the European Union and his skepticism of man-made climate change. Although Zeman is supportive of European integration, he is also rather pro-Russian. His links with shady lobbyist Miroslav Šlouf (linked to the late mafia kingpin František Mrázek) and the Russian oil company, LUKoil, have raised questions about his campaign’s funding.
Karel Schwarzenberg, is a Bohemian prince, rather colourful in his own right. An urbane and sophisticated aristocrat, he is known for his sharp appearance but also his tendency to doze off during long meetings. His family fled Czechoslovakia for Austria in 1948 after the communist coup, and Schwarzenberg was active in Austrian conservative politics during the Cold War. When he returned to Prague in 1990, he became a close friend and ally of Václav Havel, the leading opponent of the communist regime who served as President between 1993 and 2003. He has served as foreign minister in the centre-right government since 2010 (and before that between 2007 and 2009). He is a leading figure in the pro-European centre-right TOP09 party.
Both candidates had pledged to run a clean campaign in the runoff, but the campaign became rather acrimonious quickly. In a TV debate on January 17, Schwarzenberg drew criticism when he said that the expulsion of Czechoslovakia’s inter-war German minority, the Sudeten Germans, after World War II would be considered a war crime today and the creators of the Beneš decrees (laws which led to the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans after the war) would be tried as war criminals in The Hague. Schwarzenberg was also criticized for his long exile abroad and for the fact that his wife cannot speak Czech. President Václav Klaus, who supports Zeman, expressed concern about Schwarzenberg, pointing to his wife’s inability to speak Czech and his emigration during the communist regime.
During a TV interview, Zeman made a sexist joke in an attempt to criticize his opponent’s aristocratic roots. He said that raping female serfs had conferred an evolutionary advantage on squires (Zeman’s last name means squire/yeoman) while princes degenerated because “they did not have to rape their serfs.” Women’s groups criticized Zeman’s comment.
Zeman’s strategy was to turn the runoff into a campaign between the left (him) and the right (Schwarzenberg) and link his opponent to the unpopular right-wing government. The current government, led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas, is very unpopular because of austerity policies which have led to a double-dip recession and deeply entrenched corruption in the governing parties.
Turnout in the runoff was 59.1%, down from 61.3% in the first round.
Miloš Zeman (SPOZ) 54.8%
Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) 45.19%
Former Prime Minister Miloš Zeman was elected President of the Czech Republic by a bit less than 10 points. The unpopularity of the current government played a large role in Schwarzenberg’s defeat. Zeman was able to turn the presidential runoff into a battle of the left versus the right, and linked Schwarzenberg to the unpopular government. Although Schwarzenberg as foreign minister is not directly linked to the austerity policies and he is one of the government’s most popular members, he could still be easily associated with Petr Nečas’ government and the unpopular austerity policies, which in good part have been spearheaded by another member of Schwarzenberg’s party (TOP09), finance minister Miroslav Kalousek.
Zeman’s campaign was very adroit at exploiting latent patriotic, anti-aristocratic and anti-German sentiments with older, rural voters. Aristocrats, especially German-speaking aristocrats like Schwarzenberg, are unpopular figures. In the nineteenth century, aristocrats and the Czech nobility did not play a major role in the rebirth of Czech nationalism and the promotion of the Czech language. More radical nationalists and the left cast the aristocracy as the enemy. Following the independence of Czechoslovakia, aristocratic titles were cancelled and their land was redistributed in a land reform in 1919. Decades of communist rule after 1948 encouraged anti-aristocratic sentiments. Similarly, many older (and rural) voters hold anti-German sentiments, dating back to the 1930s. Zeman, his opponents would contend, ran a very underhanded dirty campaign which played up nationalistic and anti-aristocratic sentiments. They were able to portray their opponent as insufficiently Czech and patriotic; and too worldly. Schwarzenberg’s comments about the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans after World War II certainly did not help matters for him, neither did his own biography.
The map of the runoff reveals a major rural – urban divide, and something of a regional divide between Bohemia and Moravia/Silesia. Unsurprisingly, the map was basically a traditional left-right contest.
Schwarzenberg’s electorate, like in the first round, was urban, fairly young, middle-class/well off and white-collar. He won 66% of the vote in Prague and similar percentages in two affluent suburban districts which surround the Czech capital. Outside Prague, his support was again largely urban. He won Plzeň, Brno, Liberec and České Budějovice. He came close in the district containing Karlovy Vary, a spa city in northern Bohemia. On the other hand, Zeman’s electorate was more rural, older, blue-collar and economically deprived. There was a regional aspect in the split, Schwarzenberg performed best in central Bohemia, the old aristocratic base of the country and generally a rather well-off region. On the other hand, Zeman won by big margins in the eastern regions of Moravia, Silesia and also North Bohemia – poorer regions, some of them very industrialized. Zeman’s best result was 76% in Karviná, the heart of a coal mining basin in Silesia. He also won larger urban centres in Silesia and Moravia: Ostrava, an industrial city (65%); Olomouc (59%) and Zlín, an old industrial city (54%). Zeman also performed well in North Bohemia, usually the Communist Party’s strongest region. This is a major industrial (coal mining) region which was extensively resettled after the war (following the expulsion of Sudeten Germans) by Slovaks or Moravians. Zeman, generally, did better in rural and lower-income areas which have suffered the brunt of the government’s austerity policies.
Zeman’s victory means the replacement of one strong-willed and influential President by another similar figure; the difference between the two men is that Zeman appears more pro-European than Klaus, and unlike both of his predecessors he is ready to support a government which is supported by the Communist Party. Zeman has said that he would attend cabinet meetings and try to influence important legislation. The presidency is still a largely ceremonial function, but the direct election of the president might give the president more legitimacy to play a more active role in Czech politics. Zeman will take office in March.
The first round of direct presidential elections were held in the Czech Republic on January 11-12, 2013 with a runoff scheduled for January 25-26. The President serves a five-year term, renewable once. Although often described as a ceremonial head of state, in contrast to the Austrian and Hungarian presidents, the Czech President does have a few significant powers. The President has veto power over legislation, although the legislature can override a veto. The President also appoints judges to the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, may dissolve the Chamber of Deputies under certain circumstances and has shared authority with the Prime Minister over foreign policy, the use of the military, the appointment of lower court judges, and the granting of amnesty.
Until 2012, the President was elected indirectly by the members of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate through a convoluted and overly complex process. This electoral process, as in 2003 and 2008, was marred by allegations of backroom deals between parties/politicians and corruption. The 2008 presidential election was quite controversial, and led to the reform of the system. Since a reform last year, the President is directly elected to serve a two-year term. Some have criticized this reform, saying that the direct election of the President would strengthen his power and weaken parliament (the country is a parliamentary republic).
Since the fall of communism and the Velvet Divorce in 1993, two very forceful and imposing personalities have held the presidency. Václav Havel, the playwright and leading opponent of the communist regime, served until 2003. Havel was widely respected at home and abroad for his work in establishing democracy in his country. He was succeeded in 2003 by Václav Klaus, who had served as Prime Minister between 1992 and 1997 and founded the ruling conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS). In contrast to the widely respected Havel, Klaus is a far more controversial figure known for his outspoken opposition to the European Union and his skepticism of man-made climate change. He took strong stances against the European Union, which often irritated his European neighbors. Klaus was critical of the Lisbon Treaty and was reluctant to sign it, although he ultimately did. In recent years, Klaus has clashed with the governing centre-right coalition, even though it is led by the ODS.
The current government is led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS). Nečas’ cabinet is patchy and has been living on the edge since April 2012. One of his junior partners, the gadfly Public Affairs (VV) party was kicked out of the coalition (but some VV deputies stayed in government, forming a new party, LIDEM). The government lacks a coherent absolute majority in the lower house.
The government has implemented stringent austerity measures, including cutting investment, public spending and raising taxes. These austerity policies decreased public demand and led to a double-dip recession. The country’s economy shrunk by around 1% in 2012. However, the country’s deficit has been getting smaller: 3.2% of the GDP in 2011, down from 5.8% of the GDP in 2009. The cabinet is dead-set on getting the deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, it has recently introduced a bill to raise the VAT by 1% and raise taxes for high earners. Austerity has been unpopular with voters, and hurt the ODS and its allies in regional and senatorial elections in October 2012. But neither the ODS nor the inept opposition ČSSD (social democrats) are popular with voters. Elected on a platform of cracking down on corruption, Nečas’ cabinet has done – more or less – the opposite. Corruption is prevalent both within the governing parties and the opposition ČSSD, and voters are disgusted by corrupt politicians and the backroom deals which dominate the unstable parliamentary politics.
In early November 2012, the government survived a backbench revolt led by six ODS MPs who disagreed with the cabinet’s decision to raise the VAT by 1%. In somewhat obscure circumstances, the government was able to convince most of the rebels to back down: two supported it, three members resigned rather than voting on the confidence motion (they were replaced by the next-in-line candidates on the ODS’ 2010 list) and one left the party. The government survived, 101-93. The government could face another confidence vote in the next few days, following Klaus’ controversial decision to pardon over 6000 prisoners and cancel all court proceedings which had been ongoing for over eight years.
Presidential candidates needed the signatures of 50,000 citizens or the support of 20 deputies or 10 Senators. There were nine candidates, including some colourful personalities. The governing ODS nominated Přemysl Sobotka, a senator and former president of the Senate. The ČSSD nominated Jiří Dienstbier Jr., also a senator and the son of a noted dissident. However, both of these candidates had a tough time appealing to many voters in a crowded field and against some colourful personalities.
The frontrunners in the campaign were Jan Fischer and Miloš Zeman. Fischer is a statistician who was head of the Czech Statistical Office until he became a caretaker Prime Minister for a year between 2009 and 2010, after Mirek Topolánek’s cabinet collapsed. Fischer was a popular and competent Prime Minister. His candidacy received the support of Prague’s business community, which is often considered a mixed blessing for Czech politicians given the close links between big business and some politicians. He was also criticized for having been a member of the Communist Party between 1981 and 1990, but like many Czechs he defended himself by saying that membership in the ruling party was the only way for apolitical civil servants and academics like him to maintain employment. Fischer’s campaign was generally pro-European and pro-business, but his campaign was fairly colourless.
In stark contrast to the mild-mannered and technocratic Fischer, Miloš Zeman is a brash and sharp-elbowed old politico who has a reputation for abrasiveness and rudeness. Zeman was the leader of the ČSSD in the 1990s and was behind the party’s rise to power. Zeman’s ČSSD won the 1998 election and he became Prime Minister, after signing an “opposition agreement” with Václav Klaus’ ODS. The ODS provided Zeman’s cabinet with confidence and supply, in return the ODS received high-profile positions in the public sector. This opposition agreement between the two major parties in the country is often viewed as the symbol for the proximity between the two parties, despite their apparent opposition to one another. Zeman served as Prime Minister until 2001. In 2003, he tried to run for President but, having alienated members of his own party, he did not do as well as expected. Zeman remained in the party, but increasingly clashed with the ČSSD’s leadership. Following a dispute with then-leader Jiří Paroubek in 2007, Zeman quit the party. Emerging from retirement in 2010, he founded his own party, the Party of Civic Rights (SPOZ). Zeman is a colourful figure, known for his sharp and often insulting wit, and his controversial views. Like Klaus, he is skeptical of man-made climate change. In 2011, Zeman commented that Islam was the ‘enemy’ and likened Muslims who believe in the Qur’an to anti-Semitic and racist Nazis. While Fischer is a very popular figure, well regarded by most voters; Zeman is a far more controversial and divisive figure. He is well liked by older voters outside of Prague, but many others dislike him. Outgoing President Václav Klaus supported Zeman.
Zeman was widely regarded to have won a final debate, and eclipsed Fischer, the original front-runner in the polls. One of the candidates who benefited from Fischer’s fall was Karel Schwarzenberg, the incumbent foreign minister and the candidate of the pro-European centre-right TOP 09. Schwarzenberg is a wealthy Bohemian prince, known for his sharp appearance. He grew up in Austria and was active in Austrian conservative politics during the Cold War, but he returned to Czechoslovakia when the regime fell and was a close friend and collaborator of Václav Havel. He was foreign minister between 2007 and 2009, nominated by the Green Party, and again since 2010. He is one of the leading founders of TOP 09.
One candidate, Vladimír Franz, attracted international attention for his unusual appearance. An artist, opera composer and university professor, Franz’s body is entirely tattooed. An outsider candidate, his vague anti-corruption and pro-education platform appealed to many younger voters who are tired of the country’s corrupt and ever-bickering ruling elites. He surged to 11% support in the last opinion poll.
Other candidates included MEP Zuzana Roithová, nominated by the KDU-ČSL; Táňa Fischerová, an actress and former MP (2002-2006) for a small pro-European liberal party; and Jana Bobošíková, a former Eurosceptic MEP.
Turnout was 61.31%, a bit below the turnout in the 2010 general election. This turnout seems a bit low, given that the campaign had apparently excited and motivated many voters, leading some to predict 70% turnout. The Communist Party (KSČM) did not nominate a candidate of its own and was split between Zeman and Dienstbier. Judging from the low turnout in the KSČM’s strongest regions, it appears as if many of its voters did not turn out. The results were as follows:
Miloš Zeman (SPOZ) 24.21%
Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) 23.40%
Jan Fischer (Ind) 16.35%
Jiří Dienstbier Jr. (ČSSD) 16.12%
Vladimír Franz (Ind) 6.84%
Zuzana Roithová (KDU-ČSL) 4.95%
Táňa Fischerová (Ind) 3.23%
Přemysl Sobotka (ODS) 2.46%
Jana Bobošíková (Suverenita) 2.39%
As expected, former Prime Minister Miloš Zeman (SPOZ) placed first and qualified for the runoff. The surprise came from the runner-up, foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who won 23.4% and qualified for the runoff, distancing Jan Fischer, the vaguely centre-right independent who was the original front-runner and still widely expected to qualify for the runoff even if his candidacy had lost speed following the final debate.
Fischer’s support base was likely quite soft, made up in large part of urban middle-classes and pro-business centre-right voters whose early support for Fischer might have had more to do with their distaste for the polarizing Miloš Zeman. Fairly bland and colourless despite his widespread popularity with the electorate, Fischer’s support fell apart following the last debate. Many of his supporters, if my assessment of his original support is correct, preferred Karel Schwarzenberg, who had been gaining ground in the polls throughout the campaign. After all, Fischer and Schwarzenberg are fairly ideologically similar.
The other, smaller, surprise came from the ČSSD’s candidate, Jiří Dienstbier, who had been polling in the low teens for most of the campaign. He outperformed most of his polling results, taking 16.1%. I’m not sure what explains his late mini-surge in support. On the other hand, the candidate of the other traditional party – the ODS – did horribly. Přemysl Sobotka won only 2.5% of the votes! Certainly the unpopularity of the current government did not help him, and Sobotka was a largely unknown candidate in a field of heavyweights.
Vladimír Franz did not do as well as some had thought he would. His support had apparently increased to 11% in the last polls, but he came out from the first round in fifth place with only 6.8% of the vote. It should not be surprising that his potential support turned out to be quite soft. During the campaign, his pro-education and anti-corruption stance appealed to many apathetic younger voters. They probably did not turn out for him in the end.
Schwarzenberg, unsurprisingly, did best in Prague (43.2%) and its suburbs, which form his party’s traditional base (educated upper middle-classes). Broadly, his support reflected that of the right, with strong results in urban areas and in the wealthier rural areas of Bohemia. The ODS’ pathetic support was spread equally, at low levels, throughout the country. On the other hand, Zeman’s support closely reflected that of the left. He performed well in Moravia, where the ČSSD is usually stronger, and in the Ore Mountains region of Bohemia (Ústí nad Labem and Karlovy Vary regions). Somewhat surprisingly, Dienstbier’s support does not seem to have closely reflected that of his party in general elections. Certainly somebody who knows more about Czech electoral geography would be able to draw better conclusions out of the general map and each candidate’s regional support.
The runoff, two weeks from now, will oppose Zeman and Schwarzenberg – broadly speaking, the left and right (which is what Zeman is now seeking to present the runoff as). There were no runoff polls before the first round, meaning that at this early stage, we can only rely on hypotheses. Zeman is a divisive and polarizing figure, who may have a strong lingering base of support but who might have trouble winning 50+1 in a runoff election. Schwarzenberg is a less polarizing figure than Zeman, meaning that he could be in a stronger position to win in the runoff. Though I don’t know if such factors could come into play, Schwarzenberg could be perceived as having a more ‘presidential’ image than Zeman, and his foreign policy credentials as well as his ties to the late Václav Havel could come in useful. One would think that Fischer’s support will flow to Schwarzenberg while Dienstbier’s voters will prefer Zeman. Regardless of the winner, the Czech Republic will have a colourful head of state for the next five years.
Regional elections and the first round of senatorial elections were held in the Czech Republic on October 12-13, 2012. The Czech Republic is divided into thirteen regions in addition to Prague. These regions (kraje) were created in 2000 as second-level administrative divisions to replace the old 73 districts. Each region has a regional legislature elected directly through PR with a 5% thresholds, these legislatures in turn elect a regional president. Since their creation in 2000, there have been efforts at devolution to these regional governments, envisioned as better able to handle local government responsibilities than small municipalities. While it has been said that these regions have a great array of powers at their disposal, they have not used them much and regional government remains pretty weak. Voters, furthermore, have not identified much with these new regions, they preferred the old districts.
The Czech Senate, meanwhile, has 81 members elected by thirds every two years for six year terms. They are elected in single-member constituencies through the two round system. The Senate is a toothless body, which can delay laws passed by the lower house but its veto may be overridden by the lower house with only an absolute majority. Because of its redundancy and weak powers, there have been many calls to abolish the Senate. As a result of the 2008 and 2010 renewals, the opposition social democrats (ČSSD) now have a narrow absolute majority in the Senate.
The last general election, held in 2010, resulted in a centre-right government led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS). He leads a coalition including the ODS, traditionally the major right-wing party in the country and the newer right-wing and more pro-European TOP09 led by Karel Schwarzenberg. Until April 2012, the anti-corruption gadfly Public Affairs (VV) party led by former TV journalist Radek John participated in the coalition, until the party was forced out because of disagreements with the government’s austerity policies. VV, which had broken through in the 2010 general election, collapsed almost as quickly as it had emerged. Like most of these populistic “anti-corruption” outfits, VV wasn’t too clean either: one of its cabinet ministers was accused of taking a bribe. In April 2012, VV was kicked out due to disagreements with the austerity policies, but a split occured when some deputies – led by another cabinet minister, Karolína Peake - wanted to stay in the coalition and formed their own party, LIDEM. VV’s expulsion means that the cabinet is now only a minority government.
Since 2010, the Nečas cabinet has implemented stringent austerity measures, including cutting investment, public spending and raising taxes. The country’s economy shrank by 4.7% in 2009, and it may have be in a double-dip recession now: GDP is projected to shrink by 1% in 2012, down from +1.7% last year. However, the country’s deficit has been getting smaller: 3.2% of the GDP in 2011, down from 5.8% of the GDP in 2009. The cabinet is dead-set on getting the deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, it has recently introduced a bill to raise the VAT by 1% and raise taxes for high earners. These policies have largely been unpopular with voters. But voters are also angry over corruption scandals, which have also touched the inept opposition (ČSSD, social democrats). A prominent ČSSD old-timer (a former minister and current regional president of Central Bohemia), David Rath, got canned for taking bribes and kickbacks.
Turnout was 36.89% in the regional elections, down from 40.3% in 2008. In the 27 senate districts up for reelection, turnout was 34.9%, down from 42.09% in 2006 (the last time they were up). Results for the regional elections overall were as follows, compared to the 2008 regional elections:
ČSSD 23.58% (-12.27%) winning 205 seats (-75)
KSČM 20.43% (+5.4%) winning 182 seats (+68)
ODS 12.28% (-11.29%) winning 102 seats (-78)
KDU-ČSL and allies 9.87% (0.42%) winning 73 seats (+11)
TOP09 + STAN 6.63% (+6.63%) winning 44 seats (+44)
SPOZ 4.16% (+4.16%) winning 7 seats (+7)
Green Party and allies 2.83% (-0.32%) winning 10 seats (+10)
Pirate 2.19% (+2.19%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NEZ 1.68% (+1%) winning 5 seats (+5) winning 5 seats (+5)
SNK ED 1.02% (-0.24%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Regional parties and others 15.33% (+4.32%) winning 44 seats (+8)
In the first round of senatorial elections, no candidate was elected by the first round. 23 ČSSD candidates qualified for the runoff, as did 12 KSČM candidates, 10 ODS candidates, 2 KDU-ČSL candidates, 2 STAN (TOP09 allies) candidates, 1 Pirate, 1 Green and 3 others (2 indies, 1 Ostrava local party). In terms of first place showings, the ČSSD placed first in 11 of the 27 constituencies, the ODS placed first in 5, the KSČM in 4, the KDU-ČSL in two, the Greens in one, the Pirates in one and all three other candidates also placed first.
On these numbers, the ODS has already lost seven of the seats that it had won in 2006 (that year, it won 14 to the ČSSD’s 6) – which means that the party, at most, will hold only 18 seats in the Senate (down from 25) after this election. The KDU-ČSL will also hold fewer seats, it has failed to qualify for the runoffs in two seats they currently hold, meaning that, at most, they will hold four seats in the Senate (down from 6).
Updated with full results:
ČSSD winning 13 seats (+7) > 48 seats (+7)
ODS winning 4 seats (-10) > 15 seats (-10)
KDU-ČSL winning 2 seats (-2) > 4 seats (-2)
Independents winning 2 seats (+2) > 3 seats (+1)
STAN winning 2 seats (+1) > 2 seats (+1)
KSČM winning 1 seat (nc) > 2 seats (nc)
Green Party (SZ) winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
Pirate winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
Ostravak winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
S.cz winning 0 seats > 2 seats (nc)
TOP09 winning 0 seats > 2 seats (nc)
The results are a major defeat for the governing parties. The 2008 regional elections, which had been held under similar political circumstances (a ODS government) were a landslide victory for the opposition ČSSD. This year, however, the ODS’ results were even worse, winning only 12.3% of the vote. Such a drubbing was not too surprising, the ODS had been expected to lose badly at the polls. The Prime Minister tried to downplay the results, noting that voters usually express discontent with the central government during regional elections. He has nonetheless pledged to continue deficit cuts, remaining set on bringing it down the EU’s 3% limit.
As results of various “midterm” elections in the Czech Republic (most notably the last few regional elections) show, these kind of midterm elections do indeed often produce rather bad results for the party in power. However, that explanation may only go so far. The ODS’ mauling (and that of the government in general, with 6.6% it is not like TOP09 did too great either) is not only midterm protest voting, it is also discontent with the austerity policies, the bad economic conditions in the country and the stench of corruption which permeates both the ODS and the ČSSD.
The ODS did top the poll in one region, Plzeň, but Nečas cannot even take solace in that result. In that region, the ODS list was headed by Jiří Pospíšil, a young former justice minister who was fired by Nečas in June 2012. Officially, he was removed from cabinet for opposing the austerity measures. In reality, Pospíšil’s attempts to fight corruption effectively likely rattled a few feathers.
The government is currently facing a backbench rebellion over its new tax plan which would increase the sales tax by 1% and raise taxes on high earners. With an uncertain parliamentary majority, some right-wing backbenchers are threatening to bring down the government on this matter of confidence as soon as next week (October 23). They would need three-fifths of the lower house to force snap elections, which the ČSSD are calling for. The election results will boost the standing of the rebels and put even more pressure on Nečas. The rebels had already received a major boost when President Václav Klaus criticized the tax pan.
The ODS would likely lose badly if a general election were held, but not as badly as in these elections. Turnout was very low in these elections, especially on the right. In a general election, turnout would be above 60% and the centre-right coalition would perform slightly better, but would still enter as the heavy underdog against the ČSSD (and no, being an underdog isn’t necessarily something to be happy about).
The ČSSD emerged as the largest party in these elections, but the party’s results are rather disastrous, especially after the landslide victory it had won in the last regional elections in 2008. Corruption scandals have significantly weakened the party’s standing in public opinion. The ČSSD still topped the poll in nine of the 13 regions, and the senate elections will likely allow them to expand their large (but fairly useless) majority in the upper house.
This means that, on the left and overall, the main winner of these elections are the Communists (KSČM). The KSČM is a controversial party in Czech politics, because it is one of the few (the only?) unreformed communist parties in eastern Europe to still enjoy significant popular support, mostly from a core of devoted activists and voters who turned out heavily in these regional elections. The KSČM has been shunned by the other parties, with the ČSSD expressly refusing to collaborate with them at the national level. This has meant that the KSČM has remained in opposition, vitam aeternam, being able to freely oppose any policies without being held responsible itself.
Much has been made of the KSČM’s result this year, and it is true that it did impressively well. However, it isn’t the party’s first spectacular result in midterm elections of this type. It has never won over 18% of the vote in general elections, but in the 2000 regional elections it won 21.2% and in the 2004 European elections it won 20.3%. The 2000 regionals were held two years after the 1998 elections, in which the ODS agreed to support a ČSSD minority cabinet in exchange for a portion of power. This agreement is remembered as the moment when the two major parties began “cooperating in unfair practices” (cite). In 2004, the ČSSD government was extremely unpopular. The KSČM’s successes in 2000, 2004 and again this year are not emblematic of a revolutionary fervour or a fundamental shift to the far-left, but rather the result of the KSČM raking up protest votes, dissatisfied at the economic situation, rampant corruption in both major parties and the rather thin policy differences between the ODS and ČSSD. With the economic crisis and major discontent at the traditional order of things (politically, but also economically), the KSČM’s vague message of egalitarianism and more jobs struck a chord with many voters.
The Communists have topped the poll in two regions, Karlovy Vary and Ústí nad Labem – both in northern Bohemia, an industrial and mining heartland which has been the KSČM’s main stronghold in the past. Some have expressed satisfaction at the prospect of the KSČM governing two regions, it will give them a chance to prove themselves and will force them to take up actual responsibilities.
The KSČM’s success has had its influence on the ČSSD, whose leader Bohuslav Sobotka has publicly said that he would be open to a ČSSD minority government backed by the KSČM. This is a major change in policy for the ČSSD at the national level. In the past, the virulently anti-communist ČSSD has been hostile to any national government even backed by the Communists (although there has been cooperation at a regional level).
The KDU-ČSL, a right-wing christian democratic party which was thrown out of the lower house in the 2010 elections, did surprisingly well. In coalition with local independents and other assorted local parties, the party did quite well, especially in its Moravian heartlands. It was likely an attractive option for right-wing voters. The party’s success could allow it to return to
As is the case with Czech regional and local elections, in some regions local and regional parties performed well – though in some cases even better than usual. In Liberec region, the Mayors for Liberec Region (SLK – it seems vaguely right of centre and sometimes allied with TOP09), topped the poll with 22% and 13 seats. In that same region, another local party – allied with the Greens it seems – “Change for Liberec” – won 16.9% and 10 seats. In Ústí nad Labem (North Bohemia), the vaguely regionalist Severočeši.cz (NorthBohemians.cz) – a party with two senators from 2010 – won 12% and 9 seats. Local parties also won seats in South Bohemia, Karlovy Vary (in this case, two local parties won seats) and in Hradec-Králové.
The second round of the senate elections will probably confirm the first round. These elections will have a major impact on the embattled Czech government, which could collapse as early as next week if the backbench ODS rebels are successful. Even if Nečas seeks to downplay these results as the product of cyclical midterm disappointment with incumbents, these elections will have severely weakened him and his government. A snap election is not yet a certainty, even if the cabinet collapses, as it requires a three-fifths majority in the lower house to call a snap election. However, the results of this election will increase the pressure on Nečas, run up the internal tension in the ODS and might lead the ODS’ partners to reconsider their participation- for example, TOP09′s leader Karel Schwarzenberg has said that the government’s economic measures should be reevaluated as to mitigate their social impact. All these factors mean that the government will probably not survive until 2014, and that an early election will come sooner than later. In these elections, the ODS risks a debacle, but the ČSSD is only in a marginally better position overall.
Updated October 27: In the second round of senatorial elections on October 19 and 20, the ČSSD increased its absolute majority in the Senate. With 48 seats, it now holds nearly three-fifths of the seats on its own. The ODS lost ten seats, leaving it with only 15 seats in the upper house. The two-round system once again worked against the KSČM, despite qualifying for runoffs in 12 constituencies, they won (rather, held) only a single seat (constituency 5 - Chomutov).
The most important result in these elections was probably turnout – or the lack thereof. Only 18.6% of voters turned up to the polls in the 27 constituencies up for grabs, down massively from 34.9% in the first round. Turnout was down across the board.
Runoffs for a third of the seats in the Czech Senate were held on October 22 and 23, following a first round last week. While the Czech Senate has few powers, it does have a few symbolic powers and control of the Senate is generally important for a government. However, the Senate can only delay and not block legislation from the lower house and the Senate’s decision is easily overridden by a simple majority vote in the lower house. As one might expect, turnout in senatorial elections in the Czech Republic are very low. Though turnout last week was a high 44.59%, it was only because local elections were held on the same day. Turnout today dwindled to 25.15%, which is probably an all time low.
Because no constituency elected a member by the first round, runoffs were held in all 27 constituencies. The opposition ČSSD had done well in the first round, leading in ten seats, while the three main governing parties: the ODS, TOP 09 and VV did rather poorly. Due to the larger fragmentation of the right-wing vote, some had thought that the right could do better in the runoffs overall, but on the other hand the high possibility of a fall in turnout was thought to be a possible benefit for the opposition.
The results confirmed and amplified the first round success of the ČSSD, with the party taking 12 of the 27 seats up for reelection. The ODS took 8 seats, TOP 09 took two, KDU-ČSL took two, S.cz took two and one independent won. These results will give the ČSSD a majority of seats in the Senate, an historic feat. Here is my calculation of the new composition of the Senate:
ČSSD winning 41 seats (+12) including 12 new
ODS winning 25 seats (-10) including 8 new
KDU-ČSL winning 5 seats (-1) including 2 new
TOP 09 winning 3 seats (-3) including 2 new
KSČM winning 2 seats (-1)
S.cz winning 2 seats (+2) including 2 new
SOS winning 1 seat (nc)
Independents winning 2 seats (+1) including 1 new
The ČSSD won by comfortable margins in almost all the 12 seats it won, including three where they had trailed in the first round. This indicates that voters who voted for other right-wing parties (such as TOP 09 and VV) in the first round stayed home, or, more unlikely, voted but didn’t behave as the ODS might have wished. Liana Janáčková, a rather right-wing and controversial independent, was notably defeated in Ostrava-město, though she had taken first place a week ago. VV managed to make the runoff in Frýdek-Místek, but narrowly lost to the left with 48.58% in the runoff. In Pardubice, where the ČSSD had polled a plurality a week ago, an independent narrowly won with 52.23% in the runoff, likely benefiting from good transfers from the right. The independent in question has said that she will probably join the KDU-ČSL ‘club’ (parliamentary group) in the Senate, thus aligning with the right. S.cz, another vaguely independent regional party in northern Bohemia, did well, taking the district it had led on the first round (a full 65% against the ODS) but also a strong win (56%) against the ČSSD in a nearby district. Somebody will probably know better, but this party seems to be based around some sort of opposition to coal mining quotas or limits in the coal (lignite) producing regions of northern Bohemia (Most and Ústí nad Labem). KDU-ČSL’s results were good for them, generally, especially after it’s creaming in May. Being outside parliament, the KDU-ČSL may have a chance at picking up votes from unhappy right-wingers, especially if the ČSSD proves once again unable to provide a strong alternative. On a final note, TOP 09 almost managed a third seat today with a very narrow loss – by 70 votes – in Prague 6 to the ODS.
The ČSSD’s victory is a bit abetted by the low turnout, and the party’s results aren’t equal to their 2008 landslide of epic proportions; but the bottom line is that this is an important victory for the ČSSD and a big blow for the government. The government’s ability to pass legislation will not be significantly altered, though the government may on its side reconsider some of its agenda after an early rebuke by the electorate. Some believe that a shift from budget cuts to tax increases as a remedy for the country’s budget woes is likely; and some believe that the government’s two junior members may start making noises about leaving the majority after their poor showings.
The first round of election for a third of the Czech Senate as well as key local elections were held in the Czech Republic on October 15 and 16. The Senate, which is made up of 81 members elected for six-year terms, is renewed every two years in thirds. The series of seats up this year were elected back in 2004, these seats being constituencies 1, 4, 7, 10, 13 and so on till 79. Senators are elected in a traditional two-round French-like system, with 50% needed to win by the first round. Local elections, in which around 62,000 local councillors were up for reelection, were held throughout the country with the biggest contest in the capital, Prague, where both the city’s mayor and district mayors were up for grabs.
The Senate has little power, it can only delay a bill from the lower house and this veto can be easily overridden with a mere simple majority in the lower house. As a result, turnout in Senate elections has usually been quite low, for example it reached 39.5% in the 2008 first round and was as low as 29% in 2004 (when these seats were last up). It shouldn’t be a surprise then that Senate elections tend to feature blow-outs, for example in 2008 the ČSSD won 23 of the 27 seats up (at a time when the ODS government was unpopular) while in 2004 the ČSSD won none of the seats up (in the Euro elections the same day, the ČSSD, then in power, came fifth overall).
The Czech Republic voted in general elections in May and its government is only four months old. In May, both traditional parties, the centre-right ODS and the centre-left ČSSD did especially poorly, to the benefit, largely, of two new right-wing parties, TOP 09 (which is more pro-European than the ODS) and VV (Public Affairs, a populist thing). The Greens and KDU-ČSL were wiped out, though the old Communists held their ground remarkably well. A coalition government led by the ODS’ Petr Nečas was formed by the ODS, TOP 09 and VV on a platform which includes major cuts to spending and public sector wages in an attempt to bring down the country’s budget deficit to the EU limit of 3% instead of the current 5.8%. One might think that the government would still be in its honeymoon a mere four months, but governments in bad economic times often have extremely short honeymoons as the economic circumstances force them into immediate and oftentimes unpopular actions. Voters tend to like calls for a healthy budget, low deficits and strong finances in election times but they often don’t like the fine-print revealed afterwards which says that their wages and social programs will have to suffer a bit in return.
While the government isn’t yet in the abyss, the poll ratings of all three governing parties have slid somewhat and the aura of ‘change’ and ‘newness’ which surrounded VV and TOP 09 in May have been tarnished a bit. Turnout reached a rather healthy 44.59% in the Senate election, a result perhaps of the local elections held on the same day. No one won by the first round, which is somewhat unusual, but not at all surprising considering the division of the votes these days. In fact, no candidate even broke 40% of the vote and most won under 35% of the votes in their constituencies. After the first round, the ODS leads in 11 seats, the ČSSD leads in 10, TOP 09 and KDU-ČSL are ahead in two seats each while two smaller parties (S.cz and NEZ) lead in one seat each. In
According to my calculations, in the seats not up this year, the ODS (and independent ODS types) has 17, ČSSD (and independent ČSSD types) has 29, the KDU-ČSL have 3, the KSČM (Communists) have 2, TOP 09 has 1, a small liberal party (SOS has) 1, and another seat is held by a random independent. I don’t know how much weight we should put in it, but Czech news website iDNES says that if the results of the first round were repeated in the runoff, the new Senate would be as follows:
ČSSD 40 seats (+11)
ODS 28 seats (-7)
KDU-ČSL 4 (-1)
TOP 09 3 (-3)
KSČM 2 (-1)
S.cz 1 (+1)
NEZ 1 (nc)
SOS 1 (nc)
Independent-NSK 1 (nc)
Of course, there’s still the runoff to go and given the further dispersion of right-wing votes than those of the left, it is possible that the right will do better in the runoff than in the first round. But, turnout in the runoff is usually even lower than in the first round and there are no local elections then to motivate turnout. That means that those who will probably vote in the runoff will probably be more likely to be opponents of the government than supporters of the government, especially if the latter suffer a morale drop from media headlines declaring the first round a quasi-rout for the right.
Already, in nine seats held by ODS incumbents, the ČSSD is ahead by the first round and in three of those, the ODS is already out by the first round. The ČSSD also has a shot in districts 58 and 70, held by KDU-ČSL and NEZ respectively. Overall, the ČSSD has 22 candidates in runoffs and ten of those are leading by the first round. The ODS has 19 candidates and 11 of them are ahead already. TOP 09 has five candidates in runoffs and two of them are ahead (both incumbents, in Karlovy Vary and Prague 10). One TOP 09 incumbent, a former Christian democrat, was defeated by the first round in the East Bohemian district of Ústí nad Orlicí (Pardubice region). TOP 09, overall, did relatively poorly and did not break through much in the Prague region, where one might have expected some big gains for the party there, coming from the ODS. The KDU-ČSL has three candidates, two of whom are leading. It held its ground quite well in its traditional Moravian heartland, which shows to some extent that the party isn’t dead despite it’s historic drubbing in May. VV is in the runoff in one place, in district 73 (Frýdek-Místek) in Moravia, where it is narrowly trailing the ČSSD as a result of the first round.
The ČSSD’s ‘victory’ isn’t as spectacular as some might make it out to be, given that it’s overall raw score remains quite paltry (low 20s or something) and that it merely gained back ground it shouldn’t have lost in its Moravian and east Bohemian bases. These seats were last up in 2004, and 2004 most certainly wasn’t a normal year. In fact, it was one of the most abnormal years in Czech elections and it was obvious that this year would be a ‘correction’ to the anomaly of 2004. Furthermore, one should remember that, similarly to the French PS, the ČSSD is very good at winning off-year local-level or low-interest elections but doesn’t seem to be able to do as spectacularly in the elections that actually matter. Lest we forget, the ČSSD’s former leader, Jiří Paroubek, was incompetent and it currently does not seem to have gotten itself a leader ready to inspire voters, though interim leader Bohuslav Sobotka doesn’t seem all that bad.
In local elections, the ČSSD has gained back some ground but didn’t do spectacularly overall. Associations of local parties and independents still hold nearly half of the seats, 30597 overall though these independents won only 12% of the votes. ČSSD won 19.7% of the votes cast, ODS got 18.8%, KSČM won 9.6%, TOP 09 won 9.5%, KDU-ČSL took 5.5% and VV took only 2.9% and did not break through anywhere.
Prague, Europe’s fifth wealthiest city, has been a stronghold of the ODS, which has held it since the first local elections in 1994. However, the emergence of TOP 09 as a centre-right pro-European type party has challenged ODS somewhat, and TOP 09 won the city in May. It was a big target for the party this year, and it seems to be one of the party’s few bright spots. It won 30.3% of the vote and 26 seats against 21.1% and 20 seats for ODS. ČSSD won 17.9% and 14 seats, up two while the Communists lost 3 seats and won 6.8% and 3 seats. A coalition between the Greens and SNK-ED, which held 10 seats in 2006, collapsed entirely and won a mere 5.9%. It is certainly a blow to the ODS, but it isn’t one which should come out of the blue entirely. Former central bank governor Zdenek Tuma is the favourite to become Mayor.
The Senate runoffs will tell us more about the results, but it is not totally crazy to think that if TOP 09 and VV do badly again in the runoffs they could reconsider their participation in the cabinet. Mid-term cabinet collapses are not unusual in the Czech Republic, especially if their junior partners feel that they made the wrong decision in joining the cabinet. The government could also consider shifts in its policy, such as dropping budget cuts in favour of tax hikes as a method to bridge the deficit. If the results of the first round are confirmed, this first test for the Czech government could prove interesting as a point of comparison to other European countries which recently elected governments committed to some tough budget cuts (UK, Slovakia, Netherlands especially) where their governments may or may not be doing so well in a few months time.
A long-awaited and much anticipated general election was held in the Czech Republic on May 28 and 29. All 200 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, which are elected in 14 electoral constituencies through d’Hondt 5%-threshold PR, were up for election, almost four years after the last election in 2006. This election, originally rumoured to be in 2009, was much delayed until it was finally set to May 2010. In May 2009, the government of Mirek Topolánek collapsed after a non-confidence motion was passed, after months of stalemate in a parliament where the government held 100 seats and the opposition held 100 seats – making the government dependent on both shaky coalition allies and one or two opposition rebels. Since then, a caretaker government – which ended up lasting over a year – was formed led by Jan Fischer, a little-known economist and former head of the Czech Statistical Office.
Since around the mid-1990s, two parties have dominated Czech politics. On the right, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) was founded in 1991 by neoliberal members of the heterogenous anti-communist Civic Forum, which had won a crushing victory in the 1990 elections. The ODS’ most famous member is Václav Klaus, Prime Minister between 1992 and 1997, and incumbent President. He is known for his eurosceptic views and his denial of man-made global warming. The ODS does stick out from other European conservative parties for its euroscepticism and it’s more pro-American positions – it is similar in those regards to the British Tories, with whom they are allied in Brussels. On the left is the old Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), originally founded in Austro-Hungarian Bohemia in 1878 and later a major Czech party during the First Czech Republic. The ČSSD was, unlike most East European parties, re-created in 1989 and thus was not a continuation of the communist party. The ČSSD did move slightly to the right, like almost all its European counterparts, on economic issues, and between 1998 and 2002, Social Democratic Prime Minister Miloš Zeman governed with the ODS’ support and undertook some major economic reforms. The Czech Republic sticks out in another way from its neighbors by the continued strong showing of a totally unreformed and ‘undesired’ communist party, a continuation of the KSČ. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), which peaked at 18.5% of the vote in the 2002 elections, is largely unreformed and remains outside of all coalition governments, and has also been often on the verge of banning due to its more radical communist positions. On the right, the Christian democratic KDU–ČSL, also a continuation of a pre-war party, has usually been the third or fourth party, relying on remnants of support for the old ČSL in poorer rural areas in Moravia. There have been two, now three, ephemeral outbursts of other parties, the first was the far-right in 1996 led by the Republicans of Miroslav Sládek (8%), which exploited latent anti-German and anti-Rom sentiments in the industrial areas of Bohemia (which used to be in the Sudetenland). The second came from the more pro-European social liberal centre, namely the Freedom Union, which won 8.6% in 1998 before receding in 2002 to 9 seats through a deal with the KDU–ČSL and completely collapsing in around 2004, in favour of the centre-right Green Party which won 6% in 2006 but has since fallen from peaks of up to 10%.
Perhaps the result of the economic crisis, but also the result of old corruption scandals in both major parties and the poor leadership of both Topolánek and Social Democratic leader Jiří Paroubek, there has been a boom in the fortunes of new, small populistic and ‘alternative’ parties. The largest one is TOP 09, founded by pro-European dissidents of the ODS and the KDU–ČSL’s right-wing, which is led by former Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. It has gained a lot from Topolánek’s gaffes and incompetence, the most recent incident of which (insulting comments towards Catholics, Jews and homosexuals) forced him to resign in mid-campaign from the ODS’ leadership in favour of Petr Nečas. The second major party is the Public Affairs (VV) outfit, a right-populist party led by Radek John, a former popular investigative journalist, whose support came from John’s popularity as well as VV’s ‘alternative’ and “we’re not crooks” message. A smaller party, the SPOZ, founded by former ČSSD Prime Minister Miloš Zeman (an enemy of Paroubek), has also enjoyed some support.
Here are quasi-final results:
ČSSD 22.08% (-10.24%) winning 56 seats (-18)
ODS 20.22% (-15.79%) winning 53 seats (-28)
TOP 09 16.70% (+16.70%) winning winning 41 seats (+41)
KSČM 11.27% (-1.54%) winning 26 seats (±0)
Public Affairs 10.88% (+10.88%) winning 24 seats (+24)
KDU–ČSL 4.39% (-2.84%) winning 0 seats (-13)
SPOZ 4.33% (+4.33%) winning 0 seats (+0)
Sovereignty – Jana Bobošíková Bloc 3.67% (+3.67%) winning 0 seats (+0)
Green Party 2.44% (-3.85%) winning 0 seats (-6)
The result are an umitigated disaster for three parties: the ČSSD (which polls its worst result since 1996), the ODS (by far its worst result), and the worst result for the KDU–ČSL since the ČSL’s first electoral participation in 1920. All three parties have one thing in common: they’re divided, they’re unpopular, they’re associated with corruption or ‘old politics’ and the first two are the major parties which seem to be so hated this election. The Greens paid dearly their division since 2009, as well as their support of the Topolánek cabinet, and bears the brunt of the ODS’ unpopularity. The KSČM, which, still set in the Stalinist mindset, remains unable to become a durable alternative, and especially not in this election, where those who really desire an alternative are 2006 ODS voters. Radek John’s VV has won an excellent result, and he bears the weight of most of the protest or alternative voting in this election, while TOP 09 attracted many voters disenchanted with the ODS. The good result by Miloš Zeman’s party and the eurosceptic party led by MEP Jana Bobošíková has also attracted significant support, though not enough to enter Parliament. What is most showing of the two major parties’ rout is their combined vote: 42.3% against 67.7% in 2006 – all full 25 points lower than four years ago!
The massive fragmentation of parties after this election makes forming a stable coalition, which is more than a necessity during an economic crisis, much harder. The KSČM will extremely likely remain sidelined. It remains to be seen whether the ODS will ally with its ideological counterparts, TOP 09 and VV, or if one or both of these insurgent parties will ally with the ČSSD. It also remains to be seen what will happen to these parties, who campaigned largely on being the alternative to the ODS and ČSSD, after they enter a coalition as they’re likely to do. A grand coalition between ODS and ČSSD would be great way for both parties to continue on the road to the trash can, a road which they’ve already taken together since 2006. Jiří Paroubek, unexpectedly and surprisingly, was smart enough to read the writing on the wall and took heed of the ČSSD’s awful result and resigned, and commented that a right-leaning coalition was a near certainty. A coalition between ODS, TOP 09 and VV holds 118 seats out of 200, while the right in 2006 (composed of the ODS, KDU-ČSL and Greens) held 100.
The electoral office’s page here offers an easy overview of regional results. The ODS keeps the upper hand around Prague and in central Bohemia, a traditional stronghold of the big agrarian business and agriculture, and formerly a stronghold for the Republican Party of Agrarian and Smallholding Peoples during the First Republic. In Prague, a stronghold of the ODS, the ODS plummeted a full 23.5%, leaving first place to TOP 09. The more affluent and liberal voters of Prague likely preferred the more pro-European TOP 09 to the ODS. Prague is by far TOP 09′s best region with 27.3%, and it generally did well in the same areas where the ODS did well – those more well-off Bohemian area. It didn’t break through in the KDU-ČSL’s Moravian bases, specifically the regions of Jihomoravský and Vysočina, where the KDU-ČSL still managed around 8 and 7% respectively. The ČSSD, on the above map, is clearly on top in Moravia, the poorest region of the two (central Bohemia is the historical centre of the gentry and rural aristocracy) and where old industry has led to high unemployment, and won 29% in the old coal basin of Czech Silesia. The KSČM continues its traditional dominance in both Czech Silesia but also the Bohemian industrial belt in Ústecký. Most of the population in this former industrial basin of the old German Sudetenland was extensively re-settled in 1945 and 1946, notably with a lot of Slovaks or Moravians, and integration has often been hard, sparking resentment and protest which was also expressed with votes for the ephemeral far-right in 1996.
Here is the first post in a series of posts concerning the various Euro results from June 7. The results for the major parties winning seats (or not, in a few cases) are presented here, along with a very brief statistical analysis of what happened. If applicable, a map of the results is also presented. Again, except for the Germany map, all of these maps are my creations.
ÖVP 30% (-2.7%) winning 6 seats (nc)
SPÖ 23.8% (-9.5%) winning 4 seats (-3)
HP Martin’s List 17.7% (+3.7%) winning 3 seats (+1)
FPÖ 12.8% (+6.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Greens 9.7% (-3.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
As I expected, the junior partner in government, the centre-right ÖVP came out on top but the most surprising was the ÖVP’s decisive margin of victory over its senior partner, the social democratic SPÖ. In fact, the SPÖ, like the German SPD, has won its worst result since 1945. This is probably due to a poor campaign a poor top candidate – Hannes Swoboda. Swoboda ranted against job losses and outsourcing when he himself did the same thing to his employees at Siemens. The good result came from Hans-Peter Martin’s anti-corruption outfit, which got a third seat and increased it’s vote. While improving on its poor 2004 result, the far-right FPÖ is far from the 17.5% it won in the 2008 federal elections. A lot is due to abstention (anti-Euro voters being a large contingent of the abstentionists) and also Martin’s success. The Greenies have unsurprisingly fallen, though they held their second seat due to late (and still incoming) postal votes. The BZÖ of the late Jorg Haider fell just short of the threshold, and it did not win Haider’s Carinthian stronghold. Turnout was 45.3%, slightly up on 2004.
GERB 24.36% (+2.68%) winning 5 seats (nc)
BSP 18.5% (-2.91%) winning 4 seats (-1)
DPS 14.14% (-6.12%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Attack 11.96% (-2.24%) winning 2 seats (-1)
NDSV 7.96% (+1.89%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Blue Coalition (UDF and DSB) 7.95% (-1.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
The pro-European centre-right GERB won, as in 2007, defeating the Socialists (BSP, officialy grouped with smaller parties in the ‘Coalition for Bulgaria’). The Turkish minority party DPS fell significantly compared to its surprisingly excellent 2007 result. This is due to higher turnout and to competition (by Lider) in the very active vote buying market in Bulgaria. The liberal NDSV led by former Bulgarian monarch Simeon II came back from the dead to win 2 seats and increase its vote share – all this due to a top candidate who had a high personal profile and popularity in an election where person and popularity are very important.
Democratic Rally 35.7% (+7.5%) winning 2 seats
AKEL 34.9% (+7%) winning 2 seats
Democratic Party 12.3% (-4.8%) winning 1 seat
Movement for Social Democracy 9.9% (-0.9%) winning 1 seat (+1)
European Party 4.1% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
To my surprise, the opposition centre-right (albeit pro-reunification) DISY defeated the governing communist AKEL. However, both parties increased their share of the vote compared to 2004, mainly on the back of the centrist anti-reunification DIKO and the Social Democrats (who won a seat due to the collapse of the liberal European Party).
Civic Democrats (ODS) 31.45% (+1.41%) winning 9 seats (±0)
Social Democrats (ČSSD) 22.38% (+13.6%) winning 7 seats (+5)
Communist Party (KSČM) 14.18% (-6.08%) winning 4 seats (-2)
KDU-ČSL 7.64% (-1.93%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Of the shocking results of the night, the Czech result was a shocker to me. I had predicted the Social Democrats to win all along (most polls agreed, albeit very late polls showed a narrow ODS lead), and you have this very large ODS victory that really comes out of the blue. This is really quite a piss poor result for the ČSSD and its controversial and, in my opinion, poor, leader, Jiří Paroubek. I wasn’t surprised by the results of either the Communists (on a tangent, the KSČM is the only formerly ruling communist party which hasn’t changed it name and it remains very much stuck in 1950) or the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). The KSČM’s loses were predictable because 2004 was an especially fertile year for them (the ČSSD was in government, a very unpopular government). Two small parties which won seats in 2004 – the centre-right SNK European Democrats (11.02% and 2 seats) and the far-right populist Independents (8.18% and 2 seats) suffered a very painful death this year. The SNK polled 1.66%, the Independents (most of which were Libertas candidates) won 0.54%. The Greens, a parliamentary party, won a very deceiving result – 2.06%. This is probably due to turnout, which remained at 28%.
Social Democrats 21.49 % (-11.1%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Venstre 20.24% (+0.9%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Socialist People’s Party 15.87% (+7.9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Danish People’s Party 15.28% (+8.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Conservative People’s Party 12.69% (+1.3%) winning 1 seat (nc)
People’s Movement Against the EU 7.20% (+2.0%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Liberal Party 4.27% (-2.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
June Movement 2.37% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Liberal Alliance 0.59%
Red: SD, Blue: Venstre, Purple: SF, Green: DF
No real surprise in the Danish results, which were as I expected them to be. The Social Democrats drop compared to their superb 2004 showing was to be expected, obviously. Obviously, these loses were profitable not to the government (Venstre, Liberals) but to the Socialists (SF) and the far-right (DF). SF and DF have won their best result in any Danish election, either European or legislative. The June Movement, the second anti-EU movement which is in decline since it’s shock 16% in 1999, has lost its sole remaining MEP. The older (and leftier) People’s Movement has picked up some of the June Movement’s vote, though its results are far from excellent. Despite an electoral alliance with the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals (Radikal Venstre) lost its MEP.
Centre 26.1% winning 2 seats (+1)
Indrek Tarand (Ind) 25.8% winning 1 seat (+1)
Reform 15.3% winning 1 seat (±0)
Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica 12.2% winning 1 seat (±0)
Social Democrats 8.7% winning 1 seat (-2)
Estonian Greens 2.7%
Turnout was up 17% in Estonia over 2004, reaching 44% (26.8% in 2004), correcting the weird result of 2004 which saw the normally weak Social Democrats come out on top. However, the surprising result here was Reform’s rout (compared to the 2007 general elections) at the profit of Indrek Tarand, a popular independent. The opposition Centre Party, however, came out on top. However, the map clearly shows that Tarand took votes from all places – Centre, Reform, right, Greenies (winning a very deceiving 2.7%), and Social Democrats. The Centre came out on top purely due to the Russian vote in Ida-Viru and in Tallinn, the capital (despite the name, the Centre performs very well in urban areas – it’s not at all a rural centrist party a la Finland).
National Coalition 23.2% (-0.5%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Centre 19% (-4.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Social Democratic Party 17.5% (-3.7%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Greens 12.4% (+2%) winning 2 seats (+1)
True Finns 9.8% (+9.3%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Swedish People’s Party 6.1% (+0.4%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Left Alliance 5.9% (-3.2%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Christian Democrats 4.2% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
No surprises from Finland, which came out roughly as expected. The junior partner in government, the centre-right National Coalition (Kok) defeated its senior partner, the agrarian liberal Centre Party. However, the Finnish left (SDP and Left) suffered a very cold shower, winning its worst result in years. The Left even lost its sole MEP. A lot of that left-wing vote probably went to the Greenies (who won a very good result) and also the anti-immigration True Finns (in coalition with the Christian Democrats, which allowed the Christiandems to get one MEP). The Swedish People’s Party ended up holding its seat. The map is quite typical of Finnish elections, with the agrarian Centre dominating in the sparsely populated north and the National Coalition dominating in middle-class urban (Helsinki, where they narrowly beat out the Greenies for first) and suburban areas. The Swedish vote is concentrated on the Åland islands (over 80% of the vote for them) but also in small fishing communities on the west coast of Finland (which does not show up on the map).
CDU/CSU 30.7% + 7.2% (-6.6%) winning 42 seats (-7)
SPD 20.8% (-0.7%) winning 23 seats (nc)
Greens 12.1% (+0.2%) winning 14 seats (+1)
Free Democrats 11% (+4.9%) winning 12 seats (+5)
The Left 7.6% (+1.5%) winning 8 seats (+1)
In the EU’s most populated country, the Social Democrats took a major hit by failing to gain anything after the SPD’s horrible (worst since 1945) result in 2004. Overall, the Christian Democrats (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel and its Bavarian sister, the CSU, won as in 2004 but their vote also took a hit (the CDU/CSU was a popular opposition party then, they’re the senior government party now). The winners were of course the Greens, who held on to their remarkable 2004 result and in fact gained a 14th MEP, but certainly the right-liberal Free Democrats (FDP). The Left also gained slightly compared to 2004. The Left’s map remains largely a map of the old DDR but, for the first time, you have darker shades appearing in the West – specifically in the industrial regions of the Saar, the Ruhr and Bremen city. In the end the CSU had no problems with the 5% threshold and they won a relatively decent (compared to most recent results, not 2004 or 2006) result – 48% – in Bavaria. Frei Wahler took 6.7% in Bavaria, and 1.7% federally.
PASOK 36.64% (+2.61%) winning 8 seats (nc)
New Democracy 32.29% (-10.72%) winning 8 seats (-3)
Communist Party 8.35% (-1.13%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Popular Orthodox Rally 7.14% (+3.02%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Coalition of the Radical Left 4.7% (+0.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecologist Greens 3.49% (+2.88%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pan-Hellenic Macedonian Front 1.27%
No Greek surprise overall, though the Greenies’ poor result could be one. As expected, the opposition ‘socialist’ PASOK defeated the governing unpopular and corrupt right-wing New Democracy. However, there remains no great love for PASOK, partly due to the fact that both ND and PASOK are very similar. The Communist Party (KKE), one of Europe’s most communist communist parties (it still lives in 1951, decrying bourgeois and capitalists), won 8.35%, slightly above its 2007 electoral result but below the KKE’s excellent 2004 result (over 9%). The surprise came from LAOS and the Greens. The Greenies, who were polling 8-11% in the last polls, fell to a mere 3% partly due to a controversial video by the Green Party leader who said that Macedonia (FYROM, the country) should be allowed to keep its name (s0mething which does not go down well in Greece). Most of the Green strength in polls came from disenchanted ND supporters who ended up voting LAOS (the ultra-Orthodox kooks). The Radical Left (SYRIZA) won a rather poor result, probably due to the fact that it is seen as responsible for the violence and lootings during the 2008 riots in Athens.
Fidesz 56.36% winning 14 seats (+2)
Socialist 17.37% winning 4 seats (-5)
Jobbik 14.77% winning 3 seats (+3)
Hungarian Democratic Forum 5.31% winning 1 seat (nc)
The surprise in Hungary came from the spectacular result of the far-right quasi-Nazi Jobbik (which has its own private militia), which did much better than any poll or exit poll had predicted. Jobbik’s results significantly weakened the conservative Fidesz which won “only” 56% (down from 65-70% in some polls). The governing Socialist MSZP took a spectacular thumping, as was widely expected. While the right-wing MDF held its seat, the liberal SZDSZ (f0rmer coalition partner in the MSZP-led government until 2008) lost both of its seats.
Fine Gael 29.1% (+1.3%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Fianna Fáil 24.1% (-5.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Labour 13.9% (+3.4%) winning 3 seats (+2)
Sinn Féin 11.2% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Libertas 3.1% (new) winning 0 seats (new)
Socialist 1.5% (+0.2%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green Party 1.1% (-3.2%)
As expected, Fine Gael came out on top of FPVs in Ireland, inflicting a major defeat on the governing Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil, did not, however, slip to third behind Labour as some pollsters made it seem. This is due in a large part due to Labour’s complete lack of organization in most rural areas. In Dublin, both Fine Gael and Labour incumbents made it through without much sweat. The race, as expected, was for the third seat between the Fianna Fáil incumbent (Eoin Ryan), Socialist leader Joe Higgins and the Sinn Féin incumbent (Mary Lou McDonald). Surprisingly, Sinn Féin was the first out leaving the final seat between Ryan and Higgins. In the end, Higgins got the quasi-entirety of McDonald’s transferable votes and defeated Ryan with 82,366 votes against 76,956 votes for Ryan on the 7th count. Former Greenie (against the party’s participation in government) Patricia McKenna won 4.3% on first preferences against 4.7% against the official Greenie (however, further transfers from joke candidates got McKenna all the way to count 5, while the Greenie got out by count 3). In the East, Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness got elected on the first count, quite the feat indeed. However, no luck for Fine Gael’s second candidate in holding the third seat held by a retiring Fine Gael incumbent. Labour’s Nessa Childers, second on first prefs, far outpolled John Paul Phelan (FG’s second candidate) and got the second seat. Fianna Fáil held its seat. In the North-West, all incumbents (1 Independent ALDE, 1 FF, 1 FG) held their seats with Marian Harkin (Ind-ALDE) topping the poll (however, both Fianna Fáil candidates combined outpolled him and Fine Gael’s MEP). The founder and leader of Libertas, Declan Ganley polled a respectable 13.66% on FPVs and held out till the last count but lost out to Fine Gael due to rather poor transfers from the other anti-Lisbon outfit, SF. In the South, FF incumbent Brian Crowley topped the poll and won easily, as did Sean Kelly (FG). The third seat was between the incumbent Independent (eurosceptic and social conservative) Kathy Sinnott and Labour’s Alan Kelly. Kelly won.
In the local elections, the final seat share is as follows:
Fine Gael 340 seats (+47)
Fianna Fáil 218 seats (-84)
Labour 132 seats (+31)
Others and Indies 132 seats (+40)
Sinn Féin 54 seats (nc)
Socialist 4 seats (nc)
Green Party 3 seats (-15)
People of Freedom 35.26% winning 29 seats
Democratic Party 26.13% winning 21 seats
Lega Nord 10.20% winning 9 seats
Italy of Values 8.00% winning 7 seats
Union of the Centre 6.51% winning 5 seats
Communists (PRC+PdCI) 3.38% winning 0 seats
Sinistra e Libertà 3.12% winning 0 seats
Italian Radicals (Bonino-Pannella List) 2.42% winning 0 seats
Pole of Autonomy (La Destra+MPA) 2.22% winning 0 seats
South Tyrolean’s People Party 0.46% winning 1 seat
Berlusconi Coalition (PdL+LN+Autonomy) 47.68% winning 38 seats
PD Coalition (PD-SVP+IdV+Radicals) 37.01% winning 29 seats
Red: PD, Blue: PdL, Green: Lega Nord, Yellow in Aosta Valley: Valdotanian Union (PdL ally), Yellow in Sudtirol: SVP (PD ally)
The Italian results were certainly a setback for Silvio Berlusconi and his “party”, the PdL, which performed a bit lower than what he and polls had expected (38-41% range). The centre-left PD did relatively well, and this will atleast keep the party from splitting up into the old Democrats of the Left and the Daisy. In terms of coalitions, the two large parliamentary blocs stand almost exactly where they stood overall in 2008, with a very very slight improvement for Berlusconi’s coalition. The marking result of this election is probably that of Lega Nord, which has won its best result in any national Italian election (narrowly beating its previous record, 10.1% in the 1996 general election). The Lega has expanded its support to the “south” (north-central Italy), notably polling 11% in Emilia-Romagna and 4% in Tuscany. The support and future of Lega Nord is to be watched closely in the future, due to a potential new electoral law which could significantly hinder it’s parliamentary representation (more on that later). The other good result is from Antonio di Pietro’s strongly anti-Berlusconi and anti-corruption populist Italia dei Valori, which has won its best result ever, by far. It has almost doubled its support since last year’s general election. After being shutout of Parliament in 2008, the Communists and other leftie parties (Socialists and Greens) are now out of the European Parliament, depsite improving quite a bit on the Rainbow’s 2008 result. Of the two coalitions, the old Communist one made up of the Refoundation Commies and the smaller Italian Commies polled slightly better than the Sinistra e libertà, the “New Left” coalition (Greenies, Socialists, moderate “liberal” Commies). Such was to be expected, but the irony is that both leftie coalitions were formed to surpass the new 4% threshold, and none did. However, if there had been a new Rainbow coalition (the 2008 Rainbow included both the hardline Commies and the New Left), they would have made it. As expected, those small parties which won seats in 2004 due to the old electoral law have been eliminated. These include the fascists, La Destra-Sicilian autonomists/crooks, and the Radicals. The South Tyrolean SVP only held its seat due to an electoral clause which allows these “minority parties” to ally with a party to win a seat. The SVP was the only one of these which was successful in doing so. Two smaller Valdotanian parties (one allied with PdL, the other with IdV) failed to win a seat. In provincial elections held the same days, the right was very successful and of the forty provinces decided by the first round, they had won 26 against 14 for the left. 22 provinces will have a runoff. I might do a post on that if I have time.
Civic Union 24.33% winning 2 seats (+2)
Harmony Centre 19.57% winning 2 seats (+2)
PCTVL – For Human Rights in United Latvia 9.66% winning 1 seat (nc)
Latvia’s First Party/Latvia’s Way 7.5% winning 1 seat (nc)
For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK 7.45% winning 1 seat (-3)
New Era 6.66% winning 1 seat (-1)
Latvian politics are very confusing, mostly due to the huge swings. This time was no different. A new party, Civic Union (probably EPP) topped the poll over the Harmony Centre, a Russian minority outfit. The PCTVL, another Russian outfit, fell slightly compared to its 11% result in 2004, but remained remarkably stable. TB/LNNK, a UEN party which topped the poll in 2004 fell down three seats. The conservative New Era, senior party in the governing coalition, won only 7% (a lot of its members, along with TB/LNNK members apparently joined the Civic Union). The People’s Party, the senior party in the old coalition which fell apart this year due to the economic crisis won barely 2%. The Union of Greens and Farmers, which won something like 16% in the 2006 election polled a mere 3.7%.
Homeland Union-LKD 26.16% winning 4 seats (+2)
Lithuanian Social Democrats 18.12% winning 3 seats (+1)
Order and Justice 11.9% winning 2 seats (+1)
Labour Party 8.56% winning 1 seat (-4)
Poles’ Electoral Action 8.21% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberals Movement 7.17% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberal and Centre Union 3.38% winning 0 seats (-1)
Remarkable stability for a Baltic nation in Lithuania. The winner of the 2008 election, the Homeland Union (TS-LKD) won a rather convincing victory, improving on its 2008 result (only 19.6%) and obviously on its 2004 Euro result (12.6%). The LSDP has picked up an extra seat and has cemented its place as the opposition to the TS-LKD, along with the third-placed populist Order and Justice. Labour, the centrist party which won the 2004 Euro election has seen its seat share cut down from 5 to one, a logical follow-up to its collapse in 2008. The Poles have probably benefited from low turnout (21%) to motivate their base and won an outstanding 8.2% and elected one MEP. I don’t really follow Baltic politics, but if I remember correctly, a government rarely wins re-election, so if that’s true, the result of the TS-LKD is even more remarkable.
Christian Social Party 31.3% (-5.8%) winning 3 seats
Socialist 19.5% (-2.5%) winning 1 seat
Democratic Party 18.6% (+3.7%) winning 1 seat
The Greens 16.8% (+1.8%) winning 1 seat
Alternative Democratic Reform 7.4% (-0.6%)
The Left 3.4% (+1.7%)
Communist Party 1.5% (+0.3%)
Citizens’ List 1.4%
Remarkable and unsurprising political stability in Luxembourg, with no changes in seat distribution. While the CSV and LSAP suffer minor swings against them, the DP and Greens get small positive swings. The Greens’ result is their best ever and one of the best Green results in European elections.
On election night last week, I also covered the simultaneous general election. Here are, again, the full results.
CSV 38% (+1.9%) winning 26 seats (+2)
LSAP 21.6% (-1.8%) winning 13 seats (-1)
DP 15% (-1.1%) winning 9 seats (-1)
Greens 11.7% (+0.1%) winning 7 seats (nc)
ADR 8.1% (-1.8%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Left 3.3% (+1.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
KPL 1.5% (+0.6%)
Labour 54.77% winning 3 seats (nc)
Nationalist 40.49% winning 2 seats (nc)
Obviously no surprise in tiny Malta, where the opposition Labour Party has defeated the governing Nationalist Party. Both sides made gains in terms of votes, feeding off the collapse of the green Democratic Alternative (AD), which won a remarkable 10% in 2004 but a mere 2.3% this year.
Civic Platform 44.43% (+20.33%) winning 25 seats (+10)
Law and Justice 27.4% (+14.73%) winning 15 seats (+8)
Democratic Left Alliance-Labour Union 12.34% (+2.99%) winning 7 seats (+2)
Peasant Party 7.07% (+0.67%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Map by electoral constituency. Key same as above table
Polish politics move quickly, but it seems that this ‘setup’ is here to stay, atleast for some time. The governing right-liberal pro-European Civic Platform (led by PM Donald Tusk) has won a crushing victory over the national-conservative eurosceptic Law and Justice of President Lech Kaczyński. PO’s margin of victory is slightly larger than its already important victory in the 2008 elections. The SLD-UP electoral alliance, which is what remains of the Left and Democrats (LiD) coalition of the 2008 election (encompassing SLD-UP but also a small fake liberal party), won 12%, the average result of the Polish left these days. The Peasant Party, PO’s junior partner in government, won slightly fewer votes than in 2008 (or the 2004 Eur0s). The 2004 Euros, marked by the excellent result of the ultra-conservative League of Polish Families (LPR, now Libertas) and the left-wing populist Samoobrona saw both of these parties collapse. Libertas-LPR won 1.14% and Samoobrona won 1.46%. Smaller ultra-conservative jokes also did very poorly. After the 2004-2006 episode, sanity seems to have returned to Polish politics.
Social Democratic Party 31.7% winning 8 seats (+1)
Socialist Party 26.6% winning 7 seats (-5)
Left Bloc 10.7% winning 3 seats (+2)
CDU: Communist Party-Greens 10.7% winning 2 seats (nc)
Democratic and Social Centre-People’s Party 8.4% winning 2 seats (nc)
Blue: PSD, Red: PS, Green: CDU (PCP-PEV)
Cold shower for the governing Portuguese Socialists after the huge victory of the 2004 Euros. The centre-right PSD has won a major victory by defeating the PS, albeit a relatively small margin between the two. The lost votes of the PS flowed to the Left Bloc (the Trotskyst and more libertarian component of the far-left) and the CDU (the older and more old-style communist component of the far-left), both of which won a remarkable 21.4% together. These voters voted BE or CDU due to the PS’ economic policies, which are far from traditional left-wing economic policies. The PS will need to fight hard, very hard, to win the upcoming general elections in September.
Social Democratic Party+Conservative Party 31.07% winning 11 seats (+1)
Democratic Liberal Party 29.71% winning 10 seats (-6)
National Liberal Party 14.52% winning 5 seats (-1)
UDMR 8.92% winning 3 seats (+1)
Greater Romania Party 8.65% winning 3 seats (+3)
Elena Băsescu (Ind PD-L) 4.22% winning 1 seat (+1)
The close race in Romania between the two government parties ended in the victory of the junior partner, the PSD with a rather mediocre 31%. The PDL’s 30% was also rather mediocre. The PNL also did quite poorly. The two winners are the Hungarian UDMR, which won a rather remarkable 9%, probably benefiting from high Hungarian turnout in a very low turnout election. The far-right Greater Romania Party overcame past setbacks and won three seats and a surprisingly good 8.7%. This is due in part to the participation of the far-right quasi-fascist PNG-CD on its list (the party’s leader, the very controversial Gigi Becali, was the party’s second candidate on the list). László Tőkés, an Hungarian independent elected in 2007 (sat in the Green-EFA group) has been re-elected as the top candidate on the UDMR list.
Smer-SD 32.01% winning 5 seats (+2)
Slovak Democratic and Christian Union–Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS) 16.98% winning 2 seats (-1)
Party of the Hungarian Coalition 11.33% winning 2 seats (±0)
Christian Democratic Movement 10.87% winning 2 seats (-1)
People’s Party–Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS) 8.97% winning 1 seat (-2)
Slovak National Party 5.55% winning 1 seat (+1)
Smer’s result is definitely deceiving for them and possibly a sign that their past stellar poll ratings will slide to the benefit of the opposition SDKÚ-DS. However, the SDKÚ-DS (but also the KDH and obviously the ĽS-HZDS) have slid back compared to their 2004 Euro results. While the collapse of the ĽS-HZDS (formerly led by former quasi-dictator Vladimír Mečiar) is good news, the entry of the quasi-fascist Slovak National Party, Smer’s charming coalition partners, is not. However, the SNS’ 5.6% is not the 10% it used to poll and hopefully they stay low.
Slovenian Democratic Party 26.89% winning 2 seats (nc)
Social Democrats 18.48% winning 2 seats (+1)
New Slovenia 16.34% winning 1 seat (-1)
Liberal Democracy 11.52% winning 1 seat (-1)
Zares 9.81% winning 1 seat (+1)
In Slovenia, the oppostion centre-right SDS has defeated the ruling Social Democrats. Here again, the current political setup between SDS on the right and SD on the left, a rather new setup, seems set to stay for a few years. The NSi, which won the 2004 election, and the LDS, which used to dominate Slovenian politics, have both slumped back. The new liberal Zares won 9.8%, roughly its level in the 2008 election.
People’s Party42.23% (+1.02%) winning 23 seats (-1)
Socialist 38.51% (-4.95%) winning 21 seats (-4)
Coalition for Europe (EAJ-CiU-CC) 5.12% (-0.03%) winning 2 seats [1 EAJ, 1 CiU] (±0)
The Left 3.73% (-0.38%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Union, Progress and Democracy 2.87% winning 1 seat (+1)
Europe of Peoples 2.5% (+0.05%) winning 1 seat (±0)
As expected, the conservative PP defeated the governing PSOE, but due to the polarized nature of Spanish politics, no landslide here. However, the PSOE definitely polled poorly, though the PP didn’t do that great either. The regionalists held their ground well, and CiU got some little gains going in Catalonia. Aside from UPyD’s narrow entry and the obvious PP gains, it was generally status-quo.
Social Democrats 24.41% (-0.15%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Moderate Party 18.83% (+0.58%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Liberal People’s Party 13.58% (+3.72%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Greens 11.02% (+5.06%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Pirate Party 7.13% (new) winning 1 seat (+1)
Left 5.66% (-7.14%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Centre 5.47% (-0.79%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Christian Democrats 4.68% (-1.01%) winning 1 seat (nc)
June List 3.55% (-10.92%) winning 0 seats (-3)
Sweden Democrats 3.27% (+2.14%)
Feminist Initiative 2.22%
First map: Parties (SD in red, M in blue) – Second Map: Coalitions (Red-Green in red, Alliance in blue)
The Swedish results must come as a major deception for both major parties, the Social Democrats and the governing Moderates. Both had done horribly in 2004 and the 2009 results are no improvements for either of them. In fact, the opposition SD has in fact dropped a few votes more from the 2004 disaster. These loses profit to the smaller parties in their respective coalitions (Red-Green for the SD, Alliance for M). The Liberals did very well, unexpectedly well in fact, and elected a third MEP. The Greens drew votes from Red-Green voters dissatisfied by the unpopular SD leader, Mona Sahlin, and its vote share increased by 5%. Of course, Sweden is now famous for electing one Pirate MEP, and even a second MEP if Sweden gets additional MEPs as planned by the Treaty of Lisbon. The Left’s vote fell significantly from its good showing in 2004, while the vote for smaller coalition parties – the Centre and Christian Democrats also slid a bit. The eurosceptic June List, which had won 14% in 2004, fell to a mere 3.6% and lost its 3 MEPs. However, this result might have prevented the far-right Sweden Democrats from picking up a seat. The Feminists, who had one MEP after a Liberal defection, won a surprisingly decent 2%, far better than what polls had in store for them. In terms of coalitions, the governing Alliance actually won with 42.56% against 41.09% for the opposition Red-Greens.
Longer, special posts concerning the Euro elections in Belgium, France and the UK will be posted in the coming days.