Czech Republic 2013
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).