Czech Republic 2010

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.

Posted on May 30, 2010, in Czech Republic. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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