Czech Senate 2010
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.