Category Archives: Czech Republic
In the next few posts, this blog will be covering the detailed results of the May 22-25 European Parliament (EP) election in the 28 member-states of the EU. As was argued in my introductory overview, the reality of EP elections is that they are largely fought and decided over national issues and the dynamics of EP elections are similar to those of midterm elections in the US. The results of this year’s EP elections, despite the EU’s attempts to create the narrative of a pan-European contest with ‘presidential candidates’ for the presidency of the Commission, confirmed that this is still the case. Turnout remained flat across the EU, and while some pan-European trends are discernible – largely an anti-incumbent swing which is nothing new or unusual in EP elections, with a secondary swing to anti-establishment Eurosceptic parties in most but not all member-states – the fact of the matter is that the changes in the makeup and strength of the parliamentary groups in the new EP owe to individual domestic political dynamics in the 28 member-states.
These posts will likely come in alphabetical order. Some countries will be covered by guest posters who have generously accepted to help out in this big task, contributing some local expertise.
These posts do not include, generally, descriptions of each party’s ideology and nature. For more information on parties, please refer to older posts I may have written on these countries on this blog or some excellent pre-election guides by Chris Terry on DemSoc.
In this first post, the results in countries from Austria to Finland.
Turnout: 45.39% (-0.58%)
MEPs: 18 (-1)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 4% threshold (national constituency)
ÖVP (EPP) 26.98% (-3%) winning 5 seats (-1)
SPÖ (S&D) 24.09% (+0.35%) winning 5 seats (nc)
FPÖ (NI/EAF) 19.72% (+7.01%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Greens (G-EFA) 14.52% (+4.59%) winning 2 seats (+1)
NEOS (ALDE) 8.14% (+8.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
EU-STOP 2.76% (+2.76%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Europa Anders (GUE-NGL) 2.14% (+2.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
REKOS (NI/MELD) 1.18% (+1.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
BZÖ (NI) 0.47% (-4.11%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Austria’s two traditional parties of government – the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) both performed relatively poorly, in line with the general long-term trend of Austrian politics since 2006 or the 1990s. The last national elections in September 2013 ultimately saw the reelection of Chancellor Werner Faymann’s SPÖ-ÖVP Grand Coalition, although both the SPÖ and ÖVP continued their downwards trend and suffered loses, hitting new all-time lows of 26.8% and 24% respectively. The SPÖ and ÖVP, having dominated and controlled Austrian politics for nearly the entire post-war period, have gradually seen their support diminish considerably from the days of the stable two-party system which existed until the late 1980s. The ‘Proporz’ power-sharing system – the division of posts in the public sector, parastatals and government between the two major parties in the context of a pillarized political system – eroded ideological differences and created a fairly corrupt and nepotistic system of patronage and political immobilism. Austria’s economy is doing fairly well and the country is a haven of stability, but there’s no great love for its government. The SPÖVP Grand Coalition, which has governed Austria since 2006, could perhaps best be described as ‘boring’ – a stable, consensual and moderate government which ‘stays the course’ with rather prudent economic policies (mixing austerity and Keynesian job-creation incentives) and a pro-European outlook. There have been controversies and scandals to weaken the governing parties’ support and make them vulnerable to anti-corruption politics, but no crippling scandals. In turn, that means that it can be described by critics as ineffective, stale and unresponsive to voters’ concerns.
Four parties benefited from the SPÖVP’s relative unpopularity in 2013. Two old ones: Heinz-Christian Strache’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), a strongly Eurosceptic and anti-immigration populist party with a strong ‘social’ rhetoric advocating both interventionist and neoliberal economic policies (tax relief, rent reduction, higher minimum wage, millionaires’ tax, more generous pensions, tax breaks for SMEs, tax cuts for the poorest bracket, reducing bureaucracy); and the Greens, a left-wing party focused on environmental questions and government ethics. Two new ones: NEOS, a new pro-European right-leaning liberal party founded by a former ÖVP member in 2012, which has taken strongly pro-European (federalist) views combined with fairly right-wing liberal economic stances (tax cuts, a flatter tax system, pension reform, reducing bureaucracy, macroeconomic stability); and Team Stronach, a populist Eurosceptic (anti-Euro) right-wing (liberal to libertarian economic views) party founded by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach. The FPÖ won 20.5%, the Greens won 12.4%, Stronach won 5.7% and NEOS surprised everybody by winning 5% (taking 9 seats). The FPÖ was decimated by its participation in the controversial black-blue government with the ÖVP between 1998 and 2005, and further weakened by the FPÖ’s famous leader Jörg Haider walking out of the party to create the BZÖ in 2005. But since 2006, it has gradually recovered lost strength, regaining its traditional anti-establishment, anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric and base of protest voters. In the 2013 election, the BZÖ lost all its seats, having been fatally wounded by Haider’s death in a car crash in 2008 (a short while after Haider’s BZÖ had won 11% at the polls in 2008) and infighting after his death. Since the 2013 election, Stronach’s party has, for all intents and purposes, died off: the party’s underwhelming showing at the polls in September 2013 led to internal dissent against the boss (Stronach) while Stronach lost interest in his pet project. Stronach has since gone back to Canada, leaving his party’s weak caucus to fend for itself without their boss and his money. The party barely polls 1% in the polls, and it decided not to run in the European elections or a state election in Vorarlberg later this year.
The SPÖ and ÖVP, under Chancellor Faymann and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger, renewed their coalition for a third successive term with basically the same policy agenda and dropping the contentious points on their platforms which the other party disagreed with. This was greeted with disinterest or opposition by the public, and Strache’s FPÖ has continued climbing in polls. The far-right, ironically one might add, has seemingly cashed in on the Hypo Group Alpe Adria bank troubles. The bank, owned by Haider’s far-right Carinthian government until 2007, has been at the heart of a large scandal involving bad loans, kickbacks to politicians and a banking expansion gone terribly wrong. The bank was sold by the Carinthian government to a Bavarian bank in 2007, before the Austrian federal government nationalized it in 2009. The embattled lender has required the federal government to pump out large sums of bailout money (taxpayers’ money) to prop it up, and the situation has barely improved. In February 2014, the SPÖVP government decided to set up a bad bank, transferring €19 billion of troubled assets to wind it down fully. Austrians have already paid about €5 billion to help the bank, and the majority of voters want to bank to go bankrupt rather than footing the costs of winding it down (the government’s plan would increase, albeit temporarily, the debt and deficit). Although many agree that it was Carinthia’s FPÖ government which created the Hypo mess in the first place, the FPÖ’s support increased in the polls this spring when the bank was a top issue. The FPÖ is generally first or second in national opinion polls, polling up to 26-27% while the ÖVP and SPÖ are in the low 20s.
EP elections are, however, a different matter. In the last few elections, the ÖVP has generally done better than in national polls and the FPÖ hasn’t done as well. In 2004 and 2009, the FPÖ was weakened by competition from the Martin List – an ideologically undefined anti-corruption and soft Euro-critical movement led by ex-SPÖ MEP Hans-Peter Martin, who won 14% in 2004 and 17.7% in 2009 (electing 2 and 3 MEPs respectively). Since 2009, Martin lost his two other MEPs – one joined the ALDE and ran for reelection as the right-liberal BZÖ’s top-candidate while the other ran as the top candidate for the European Left-aligned Europa Anders alliance (made up of the Pirate Party and the Communist Party), and his personal transparency and probity has been called into question. Martin, polling only 3%, did not run for reelection. The FPÖ was drawn into a significant crisis when Andreas Mölzer, MEP and top candidate from the FPÖ’s traditionalist far-right and pan-German wing, commented at a round-table that the Nazi Third Reich was liberal and informal compared to the ‘EU dictatorship’ and called the EU a ‘negro/nigger conglomerate’ (negrokonglomerat). Mölzer apologized for the ‘nigger’ comments but did not back down on the Third Reich comparison, and Strache initially accepted his apology. But there was strong political pressure from other Austrian politicians and parts of the FPÖ for Mölzer to step down as FPÖ top candidate, which he did on April 8. Harald Vilimsky, an FPÖ MP close to Strache, replaced him. Ironically, on April 8, the BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider – the daughter of the late Carinthian governor – stepped down as the party’s top candidate. The FPÖ’s support in polls declined from 20-23% to 18-20% following the mini-scandal, before climbing back up to 20-21%.
The ÖVP, led by incumbent MEP and EP vice-president Othmar Karas, topped the poll with 27% of the vote, a result down 3% on the ÖVP’s fairly strong showing in 2009 (30%) and costing the party one seat in the EP. The SPÖ, which had performed very poorly in 2009 with only 23.7% (a result down nearly 10 points from 2004), barely improved its totals, taking a paltry 24.1%. In all, both coalition parties performed poorly at the polls. For the ÖVP, however, it was a strong performance compared to what it’s been polling in national polls – it has gotten horrendous results, barely over 20% and down to 18% in some polls; its leader, Vice Chancellor and finance minister Michael Spindelegger, even manages the relatively rare feat of being more disliked than the far-right’s leader. The ÖVP has been bleeding support to NEOS, the new right-wing liberal party which is attractive to ÖVP voters in their leader’s home-state of Vorarlberg but also high-income, well-educated urban centre-right voters. From 5% in 2013, NEOS has been polling up to 13-14% – the same range as the Greens.
The ÖVP’s stronger performance in the EP elections likely owes mostly to turnout. The ÖVP’s increasingly elderly and fairly rural electorate is far more likely to turn out in the EP election than the FPÖ’s potentially large but also fickle electorate of anti-EU protest voters who have lower turnout in low-stakes elections such as EP elections (and there was not much to mobilize a protest electorate to vote in an EP election this year). The turnout map shows the heaviest turnout from the rural Catholic ÖVP strongholds in Lower Austria (the Waldviertel and Mostviertel regions of the state are some of the strongest ÖVP regions in Austria, with the conservative party taking about 40% there this year), although turnout was also high in the traditionally Socialist state of Burgenland and SPÖ-leaning areas in Lower Austria’s Industrieviertel. In Vienna, the conservative-leaning districts had higher turnout than the working-class SPÖ/FPÖ battleground boroughs (53.7% turnout in ÖVP-leaning Hietzing and 34.8% turnout in the working-class district of Simmering).
SORA’s exit poll/post-election analysis showed an electorate which was more pro-EU than non-voters: 35% of voters expressed ‘confidence’ in the EU while only 18% of non-voters did so; 28% of voters expressed ‘anger’ in the EU compared to 35% of non-voters while an additional 19% of non-voters were indifferent towards the EU. 15% of non-voters thought the country should leave the EU; only 9% of actual voters thought likewise. Consider, on top of that, that of voters opposed to the EU, a full 60% supported the FPÖ while only 4% of pro-EU voters backed the far-right party. The FPÖ’s electorate is quasi-exclusively anti-EU/Eurosceptical, but it is this electorate which had the lowest turnout on May 25. As such, it is hard to consider this EP election as being an accurate portrayal of where public opinion/voting intentions for the next election stands at the moment.
Nevertheless, the FPÖ won a strong result, although it falls below the party’s 2013 result and falls far short of the FPÖ’s records in the 1996 and 1999 EP elections (27.5% and 23.4% respectively). The FPÖ gained about 7% from the 2009 election. According to SORA’s voter flow analysis, the FPÖ gained 26% of the 2009 Martin vote (130,000 votes), a quarter of the 2009 BZÖ vote (33,000) and 3% of 2009 non-voters (a still hefty 99,000 votes). It held 64% of its own vote from 2009, losing about 16% of its voters from five years ago to abstention and about 15k each to the ÖVP, SPÖ, Greens, NEOS and other parties. Geographically, the FPÖ performed best in Styria, placing a close second with 24.2% against 25.3% for the ÖVP – the FPÖ had won the state, where the state SPÖVP government is unpopular, in the 2013 elections. Unlike in the 2013 election, the FPÖ did fairly poorly in Graz (17.9%) but retained strong support in other regions of the state – both the conservative and rural southern half and the industrial SPÖ bastions of Upper Styria. In Carinthia, the FPÖ won 20.2%, gaining 13.5% since 2009, but not fully capitalizing on the BZÖ’s collapse in the old Haider stronghold – the BZÖ vote in the state fell by 19.6%, to a mere 1.4%. The SPÖ made strong gains in Carinthia, continuing the trend from the 2013 state and federal elections, winning 32.8% (+7.4%). In Vienna, the FPÖ won 18.2%, compared to 20.6% in 2013. Its best district remained the ethnically diverse and working-class Simmering, where the far-right party won 28.7% against 35.8% for the SPÖ.
The Greens performed surprisingly well, taking 14.5%, slightly better than the 12-13% they had received in EP polling. Since the 2009 election, the Greens have gained votes from non-voters (65k, 2%), Martin’s list (54k, 11%), the ÖVP (40k, 5% and the SPÖ (36k, 5%). These gains compensated for some fairly significant loses to NEOS, which took 12% of the Greens’ 2009 electorate (a trend observed in 2013) and to abstention, with 7% of the Greens’ 2009 supporters not turning out this year. The Greens performed best in Vorarlberg (23.3%, topping the polls in the districts of Feldkirch and Dornbirn) and Vienna (20.9%, topping the poll in their traditional strongholds in the central ‘bobo’ districts but also extending into gentrifying districts such as Hernals), and they were the largest party in the cities of Graz and Innsbruck.
Once again, the Greens’ support decreases with age (26% with those under 29, the SPÖ and ÖVP placed third and fifth respectively), increases with higher levels of education (31% with those with a university degree) and was at its highest with young females (32% with women under 29). There is a massive gender gap between young males and females; the former being the FPÖ’s prime clientele (33%) while the latter are left-leaning and liberal (only 16% for the FPÖ). The SPÖ and ÖVP, the two old parties, have been polling horribly with young voters, who prefer the fresher alternatives of the FPÖ (especially unemployed or blue-collar young males in demographically stagnant or declining areas, with low levels of qualification) or the Greens/NEOS (young, well-educated women and men with high qualifications in cosmopolitan urban areas and college towns). The SPÖ and ÖVP electorates are disproportionately made up of pensioners/seniors – the two parties won 34% and 35% of pensioners’ votes respectively.
NEOS, on the other hand, had a rather underwhelming performance: with 8.1% of the vote, the new liberal party on an upswing since 2013, only managed to win one MEP rather than the two they might have won if they matched their early polling numbers (12-14%). In the last stretch of the campaign, however, NEOS’ support fell to 10-11%, likely feeling the results of an ÖVP and Green offensive against the ‘NEOS threat’ – the Greens trying to depict NEOS as a right-wing liberal party. The party’s stances in favour of water privatization, waste management privatization and European federalism, which are unpopular topics in Austria, may have hurt them. Weak turnout with young voters, NEOS’ strongest electorate, may also have hurt them. NEOS polled best in Vorarlberg, where the party’s leader is from (14.9%) and Vienna (9.1%); in general, NEOS has urban support, largely from the same places where the Greens or the ÖVP find support (well-educated, younger, and middle-class professional inner cities). Demographically, NEOS’ support decreased with age (15% with those under 29) and generally increased with higher levels of education.
The BZÖ saw its support evaporate entirely, even in its former Carinthian stronghold. The party suffered from major infighting following Haider’s death, and the remnants of the party shifted to a right-wing liberal/libertarian and Eurosceptic platform which was a major flop in the 2013 elections. The BZÖ’s sole MEP, Ewald Stadler, from the far-right Haiderite/traditionalist wing of the party, was expelled from the party in 2013 after criticizing the right-liberal shift and the party’s 2013 campaign. He ran for reelection for The Reform Conservatives (REKOS), which won 1.2%. The BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider, withdrew, and was replaced by Angelika Werthmann, an ex-Martin and ex-ALDE MEP. At this point, the BZÖ is likely to fully die off and disband.
On the left, the Austrian Pirates and Communists, which won only 0.8% and 1% in 2013, united to form an electoral coalition allied to the European Left, Europa Anders, led by Martin Ehrenhauser, an ex-Martin MEP. They managed a fairly respectable 2.1% of the vote.
Martin’s 2009 vote flowed mostly to the FPÖ (26%) and abstention (25%), but the SPÖ, ÖVP and Greens each received 11% of Martin’s 2009 vote and NEOS got 9% of them.
Turnout: 90.39% (+0.75%) – mandatory voting enforced
MEPs: 21 (-1) – 12 Dutch-speaking college (Flanders), 8 French-speaking college (Wallonia) and 1 German-speaking college (German Community); voters in Brussels-Capital and six municipalities with language facilities may choose between the Dutch and French colleges
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (no threshold) in 2 colleges, FPTP in the German-speaking college
N-VA (G-EFA > ?) 26.67% (+16.79%) winning 4 seats (+3)
Open Vld (ALDE) 20.4% (-0.16%) winning 3 seats (nc)
CD&V (EPP) 19.96% (-3.3%) winning 2 seats (-1)
sp.a (PES) 13.18% (-0.03%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Groen (G-EFA) 10.62% (+2.72%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Vlaams Belang (NI/EAF) 6.76% (-9.11%) winning 1 seat (-1)
PvdA+ 2.4% (+1.42%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PS (PES) 29.28% (+0.19%) winning 3 seats (nc)
MR (ALDE) 27.1% (+1.05%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 11.69% (-11.19%) winning 1 seat (-1)
cdH (EPP) 11.36% (-1.98%) winning 1 seat (nc)
PP 5.98% (+5.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB-GO! 5.48% (+4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDF 3.39% (+3.39%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Debout les Belges! 2.98% (+2.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
La Droite 1.59% (+1.59%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.14% (-6.34%) winning 0 seats (nc)
CSP (EPP) 30.36% (-1.89%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 16.66% (+1.08%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PFF (ALDE) 16.05% (-4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SP (PES) 15.11% (+0.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ProDG (EFA) 13.22% (+3.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Vivant 8.61% (+2.36%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Belgian EP, federal and regional elections will be covered in a dedicated guest post.
Turnout: 36.15% (-1.34%)
MEPs: 17 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, Hare quota threshold approx 5.9% (national constituency)
GERB (EPP) 30.4% (+6.04%) winning 6 seats (+1)
Coalition for Bulgaria-BSP (PES) 18.93% (+0.43%) winning 4 seats (nc)
DPS (ALDE) 17.27% (+3.13%) winning 4 seats (+1)
Bulgaria Without Censorship 10.66% (+10.66%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Reformist Bloc (EPP) 6.45% (-1.5%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Alternative for Bulgarian Revival 4.02% (+4.02%) winning 0 seats (nc)
National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria 3.05% (+3.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Attack 2.96% (-9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Others 6.26% winning 0 seats (-2)
In an election marked by low turnout – the norm for EP elections in the new member-states – the right-wing opposition party, former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria), ‘won’ the election and gained another two seats in the EP. The political climate in Bulgaria is incredibly bleak, and the elections in May 2013 have changed little except the colour of the head of an increasingly discredited, corrupt, incredibly disconnected and largely incompetent political elite. In 2009, only a month after the EP elections, the GERB, a new right-wing anti-corruption and ostensibly pro-European party founded by Boyko Borisov, a flamboyant and burly wrestler/bodyguard/police chief-turned-politician (he was mayor of Sofia from 2005 to 2009), won the legislative elections in a landslide, handing the governing Socialist Party (BSP) a thumping (like all Bulgarian governments up to that point, it was defeated after one term in office). Borisov quickly became unpopular, for implementing harsh austerity measures which drastically cut the budget deficit but aggravated poverty in the EU’s poorest countries (it has the lowest HDI and the lowest average wage at €333), and for proving once again that Bulgarian politicians are all hopelessly corrupt whose electoral stances are gimmicks. Borisov had previously been accused of being directly linked to organized crime and major mobsters in Bulgaria; in government, he was accused of money laundering for criminal groups by way of his wife, who owns a large bank. His interior minister wiretapped political rivals, businessmen and journalists; the top anti-crime official, who was Borisov’s former campaign manager, was suspected of having received a bribe in 1999 in return for alerting mobsters of police interventions and having turned a blind eye to drug trafficking channels in the country. Borisov’s government fell following huge and violent protests (a few protesters self-immolated) in early 2013, sparked by popular anger at exorbitant utility prices (it was said that households would soon spend 100% of their monthly income on basic necessities) charged by corrupt monopolistic private firms; but they symbolized a wider lack of trust in politicians and institutions, exasperation at political corruption, the control of politics by corrupt oligarchs and mismanagement in both the public and private sectors. Borisov engineered his own resignation in pure populist fashion and called for snap elections, in which the GERB lost 19 seats and 9% but retained a plurality of seats. However, given a polarized and dirty political climate, Borisov was unable to form government.
The opposition BSP, which increased its support by about 9%, formed a minority government in coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), the party of the Turkish minority, and received conditional support from the far-right nationalist Attack party, notwithstanding the far-right’s traditional vicious anti-DPS and anti-Turkish rhetoric. Plamen Oresharski, a somewhat technocratic BSP figure (who had been a very right-wing finance minister under a past BSP government), became Prime Minister. But it was clear that the elections had changed little and that the new government was unfit to address the real challenges at hand: there remained a large discrepancy between the political elite and the citizenry, an ‘above’ vs. ‘below’ polarization rather than an ideological divide. The BSP is little different from the GERB; the left-wing rhetoric and orientation of the BSP is largely for show, because in power, from 2005 to 2009, the BSP government introduced a 10% flat tax (despite promising to amend it to make it progressive for some, the Oresharski government has keep it intact) and continued privatizations, while proving no less corrupt or incompetent than the right. Lo and behold, two weeks after Oresharski cobbled together his fragile government, major protests erupted in Sofia after the government nominated Delyan Peevski, a DPS MP and highly controversial and corrupt media mogul/oligarch, to head the secret service. Although officially owned by his mother, Peevski’s media group controls several high-circulation newspapers, TV channels and news websites which tend to be invariably pro-government while he is closely tied to Tsvetan Vassilev, the boss of a powerful bank which dispenses much of the investment for state-owned companies. Peevski is also a politician, having served as a deputy minister under a previous BSP government before he was fired and prosecuted (but later cleared) on extortion and corruption charges. The protests forced Oresharski to quickly revoke Peevski’s appointment, but the large protests, rallying tens of thousands of mostly young and/or middle-class protesters in Sofia organized through social media, continued in June and July. In late July, protesters laid siege to Parliament after MPs had approved a new debt emission without clarifying where 40% of the funds will go. Police brutally cracked down on protesters and bused the MPs out. The protests became a catch-all movement, calling for the resignation of the government, more transparency, less corruption, an end to the rule of oligarchs, cracking down on organized crime and more broadly rescuing Bulgaria from its dismal state. In late 2013, a report by the European Commission lamented the government’s inability to reform the slow and ineffective judiciary or fight corruption.
Protests have continued, but with lower turnout, marked by student sit-ins and campus occupations in October and January. Support for the protests apparently declined somewhat, with the BSP voicing concerns that the protests were partisan and that the GERB was seeking to seize control of the movement, although it does not appear that most protesters have been co-opted. Critics have attacked the middle-class background of the protesters, the strongly anti-communist and anti-leftist rhetoric of the protesters which has enabled the BSP to rally its supporters (in counter-protesters, allegedly paid) and perhaps some thinly-veiled anti-Turkish (DPS) sentiments. There has been some ‘protest fatigue’ setting in, with calls on the protesters to lay off and allow the government, although it may fall and be forced into snap elections at a moment’s notice, to prove itself. The government assures voters that it has a reformist platform, aimed at tackling corruption and improving living conditions and social benefits. However, at other times, the BSP has preferred to play political games, lashing out and pointing figures at the GERB, which retaliated with more politicking of its own.
A new party, Bulgaria Without Censorship (BBT), was founded in January 2014, led by former TV host Nikolay Barevok. BBT, which has allied with parties on the right and left, has a populist platform with promises to lock up corrupt politicians, work for ‘capitalism with a human face’ (Barekov has expressed nostalgia for the communist regime and criticized the effects of capitalism on the country) and an operation to audit the income and property of all Bulgarian politicians over the last 20 years. Barevok doesn’t come without baggage of his own – anti-corruption activists have asked questions about Barekov’s weight and there is the matter of his alleged connections to Peevski and Tsvetan Vassilev.
The GERB won the EP elections with a solid majority over the governing Coalition for Bulgaria, in which the BSP is the only relevant party. The party won 30.4%, very similar to its 2013 result, although its vote intake of 630.8k was far less than the 1.08 million votes the GERB won in 2013. The BSP coalition won 18.9%, a terrible showing similar to the 2009 EP election, when the BSP was also an unpopular governing party (then under Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, who was soundly defeated a month later). From 942.5k votes in 2013, the BSP fell to only 424,000 votes this year.
The DPS, the party representing the Turkish minority, did very well with 17.3% of the vote, and the DPS’ vote intake was 97% of what it had won in 2013, the best hold of any major party. The DPS performs well in low-turnout elections, such as EP elections – in 2009, the DPS had won 14.1% and, most spectacularly, came close to topping the poll in the low-turnout 2007 EP by-election, winning 20.3% in an election with 29% turnout. Turnout tends to be higher in the Turkish areas of the country, where the DPS has a renowned ability to mobilize its Turkish electorate using various legal and extra-legal means (it is often accused of ‘electoral tourism’, which leads to Turkish voters voting at home in Bulgaria before turning up to vote ‘abroad’ at consulates in Turkey; plus the vote buying and intimidation techniques used by all parties); the division of the ethnic Bulgarian vote between different parties also helps the DPS top the poll even in Turkish-minority areas. For example, in this election, the division of the vote and turnout dynamics likely explain why the DPS polled the most votes in Smolyan and Pazardzhik province (which are 91% and 84% Bulgarian respectively, but the DPS has strong support with religious Muslim Pomaks – Bulgarian Muslims, who may identify as Turks – in the western Rhodope). In Kardzhali province, which is two-thirds Turkish, the DPS won 70.2% of the vote; it also topped the poll in four provinces with a significant Turkish minority (or majority, in Razgrad province) in northern Bulgaria. Peevski was the DPS’ top candidate, but he has declined to take his seat as a MEP.
The new BBT won 10.7% of the vote. It may have benefited from the collapse of the far-right Attack (Ataka), which had received about 12% in 2009 (and 7.3% in 2013), but won only 3% of the vote this year. The far-right has likely been hurt by its support for the government – the association with the DPS doesn’t seem to bother them too much, and Attack’s leader Volen Siderov spilled lots of vitriol on the protesters. The far-right’s support had previously collapsed between 2009 and 2013, when Attack had unofficially supported Borisov’s government, before it used the anti-Borisov protests to save its parliamentary seats in 2013. The Reformist Bloc, a right-wing coalition made up of the old Union of Democratic Forces (SDS, Bulgaria’s governing party between 1991 and 1992 and 1997 to 2001), former SDS Prime Minister Ivan Kostov’s fan club (the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria) and former EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva’s centre-right personal vehicle (Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, which failed to get into Parliament in 2013), held one of their seats with 6.5% of the vote. Kuneva was the alliance’s top candidate.
Turnout: 25.24% (+4.5%)
MEPs: 11 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)
HDZ-HSS-HSP AS-BUZ (EPP/ECR) 41.42% (+8.56%) winning 6 seats (nc) [4 HDZ-EPP, 1 HSS-EPP, 1 HSP AS-ECR]
Kukuriku coalition (S&D/ALDE) 29.93% (-5.98%) winning 4 seats (-1) [3 SDP-S&D, 1 HNS LD-ALDE]
ORaH (G-EFA) 9.42% (+9.42%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Alliance for Croatia/HDSSB-HSP 6.88% (-0.07%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Labourists (GUE-NGL) 3.4% (-2.37%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Croatian Center/NF-HSLS-PGS 2.4% winning 0 seats
Others 6.55% winning 0 seats
Croatia is the EU’s newest member-state, having joined the Union on July 1 of last year – after two-thirds of voters had voted in favour of EU membership in January 2012 and three months after a by-election to elect Croatia’s 12 new MEPs (in which turnout was only 20%). Although there is no significant party which is openly anti-EU, there was little enthusiasm for joining the EU – certainly, joining the midst of the Eurozone crisis, there was none of that pomp which accompanied the EU’s Eastern enlargement in 2004. The Croatian economy has been performing poorly for nearly five years now – in fact, Croatia has been in recession for five years in a row, since the GDP plunged by nearly 7% in 2009. GDP growth is projected to remain negative in 2014, at -0.6%, although Croatia is expected to finally grow out of recession next year. Unemployment has soared from 9% when the recession began to about 17-20% today, with little relief expected in the next few years. The country’s public debt has increased from 36% to nearly 65% of the GDP. Croatia was initially hurt by the collapse of its exports to the rest of the EU with the global recession in 2009-2010, and many argue that the crisis has been so painful in Croatia because of the government’s reluctance to adopt structural reforms to reduce the country’s high tax rates, boost consumption, reducing tax revenues, downsize a large and costly public sector and restrictive monetary policies. Nevertheless, since 2009, two successive Croatian governments – from the right and left of the spectrum – have adopted similar austerity measures which have been deeply unpopular with voters and unconvincing for investors.
Between 2003 and 2011, Croatia was ruled by a centre-right coalition led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Franjo Tuđman’s old authoritarian-nationalist party which had transformed into a pro-European conservative party under Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (2003-2009). The HDZ government became deeply unpopular because of the economic crisis, austerity policies and corruption scandals which have landed Sanader in jail. Hit by the recession, the HDZ government under well-meaning but largely ineffective Prime Minister Jadranska Kosor introduced a new income ‘crisis’ tax and increased the VAT by 1%. More importantly, the HDZ soon became embroiled in a series of particularly egregious corruption cases involving Sanader himself. In December 2010, as the Parliament was about to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, Sanader tried to flee to Austria but was arrested on an Interpol warrant and later extradited to Croatia to face trial. In this context, an opposition coalition, Kukuriku, led by Zoran Milanović’s Social Democrats (SDP) in alliance with the left-liberal Croatian People’s Party-Liberal Democrats (HNS-LD) and the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), won the December 2011 elections in a landslide with 40.7% against only 23.9% for the HDZ coalition.
In office, Milanović’s government has continued with similar austerity policies, which the centre-left government claims are tough measures necessary to make Croatia competitive in the EU and which any government would be forced to take. He has cut public spending, begun a wave of privatizations, reformed pensions, liberalized foreign investment and has talked of cutting 15,000 jobs from the public sector. Some of his controversial economic policies have been opposed by trade unions and employees, while the likes of The Economist dislike the government’s reluctance to cut taxes and public sector wages. The SDP-led government is widely viewed as being uninspiring, and some of Milanović’s decisions have baffled supporters – for example, Milanović barred (until January 2014) the extradition to Germany of former Yugoslav-era secret police chief Josip Perković, who is wanted for the murder of a Croatian defector in Germany in 1983. The opposition HDZ is hardly in better shape. Tomislav Karamarko, the HDZ leader since 2012, has not really improved the HDZ’s standing in opinion polls. In late 2012, the opposition leader was accused of creating a fake scandal to discredit the government (a right-wing paper had alleged that the interior minister had been tapping phones of intelligence operatives, before a left-wing paper countered by claiming that the intelligence operatives had suspected ties with the mafia). In December 2012, Ivo Sanader was found guilty in a first corruption trial and sentenced to 10 years in jail, for having accepted bribes from Austria’s Hypo Bank and an Hungarian oil company. In March 2014, Sanader received another 9 year prison sentence when he – and the HDZ – were found guilty of corruption, accusing Sanader of being behind a scheme to siphon off funds from state-run institutions for personal and partisan financial gain. There has, however, been a mobilization of socially conservative and nationalist opinion, buoyed by the successful initiative referendum last year which amended the constitution to ban gay marriage. The ban on same-sex marriage was approved by 65.9% of voters, despite the opposition of the Prime Minister.
The opposition coalition, made of the HDZ, the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), the national-conservative Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (HSP-AS) and a pensioners party, won a strong victory – but with only a quarter of the electorate actually turning up. With 41% of the vote, the HDZ’s result is about 8.6 points better than what it had won in the by-election last year, when the right had defeated the SDP coalition by a small margin. The right-wing coalition won 381,844 votes, which is less than what the right received in the 2011 parliamentary elections (554,765), when it had won only 23.4%. Given the low turnout, it is likely a matter of differential mobilization – with opposition voters being more motivated to turn out than supporters of an unpopular and uninspiring government. Polls for the next general elections have showed the right to be tied with or leading the government, but more because the government’s numbers have collapsed to a low level than any major increase in the right’s support (which stands at 24-27%, with the gains from the HDZ’s result in 2011 coming from the addition of the party’s new allies, the HSS and HSP-AS). Turnout was slightly higher in some of the HDZ’s traditional strongholds in Dalmatia, but correlation between turnout and the right’s support was not apparent at the county level. As in 2013, the top vote-winning candidate on preferential votes was Ruža Tomašić, the MEP from the nationalist HSP-AS, who sits with the British Tories in the ECR group (the HDZ, and now the HSS, which won one of the coalition’s six MEPs, sits with the EPP). She won 107,206 votes, or 28.1% of votes cast for the list.
The SDP-led coalition expanded compared to the 2013 EP election, taking in the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), which had won 3.8% of the vote (and topped the poll in Istria, a traditional left-wing bastion), but despite this expansion, the Kukuriku list won 6% less than the SDP-IDS’ combined total from the 2013 by-election and the 275.9k votes it won represents a huge collapse from the 958,000 votes the left had won in 2011. Tonino Picula, an incumbent SDP MEP, received the most preferential votes (48.1%), while the Kukuriku coalition’s top candidate on the list, EU Commissioner Neven Mimica won only 8.1% of preferential votes cast for the list.
To a large extent, the other major winners of the election were smaller parties, although only one of them won seats. ORaH – Croatian Sustainable Development (although orah means nut or walnut in Croatian)- is a new green party founded by former SDP environment minister Mirela Holy, who resigned from cabinet in 2012 citing disagreements with the government’s policy. ORaH describes itself as a socially liberal, progressive green party of the centre-left, and is seeking association with the European Greens. The party’s support has soared in polls since its creation in October 2013, now averaging about 9-11% nationally. Likely pulling votes from the left – ORaH performed best in traditionally left-leaning counties such as the city and county of Zagreb, Istria and Primorje-Gorski Kotar – the party won 9.4% or 86.8 thousand votes, electing Mirela Holy to the EP.
On the right of the spectrum, the Alliance for Croatia, a new right-wing coalition made of the regionalist/conservative Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB), the far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and the new far-right Hrast movement, won 6.9% of the vote, but failed to win a seat. To a large extent, the alliance’s support remained concentrated in the HDSSB’s traditional stronghold in Osijek-Baranja county, where it won 16.4%, but it did win some significant support outside the poor conservative region of Slavonia, notably in Zagreb (7%) and Split-Dalmatia county (10.9%).
The Labourists, a left-wing anti-austerity party founded by HNS dissident Dragutin Lesar, which won 5% in 2011 and 5.8% in 2013, lost its only MEP. The party, which polled up to 10% in 2012, has seen its support declined to 7-8%. The Partnership of the Croatian Centre, a new centre-right alliance including ophthalmologist Nikica Gabrić’ National Forum, the centre-right Social Liberals (HSLS) and two small local parties, won 2.4% of the vote. Former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, expelled from the HDZ in March 2013, was the alliance’s top preferential vote-winner, with 29.7% of the votes cast for the alliance in her name against 24.2% for Gabrić.
This EP election should probably not be taken as an accurate depiction of voters’ view, because turnout was just so low. Polls suggest that the next election, due by 2016, will result in an exploded political scene, with both the SDP and HDZ-led blocs polling below 30% with third parties such as ORaH, the Labourists, the HDSSB and the centrist alliance being all potential kingmakers in what may be a very divided Sabor.
Turnout: 43.97% (-15.43%) – mandatory voting unenforced
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 1.8% threshold (national constituency)
DISY (EPP) 37.75% (+1.76%) winning 2 seats (nc)
AKEL (GUE-NGL) 26.98% (-8.37%) winning 2 seats (nc)
DIKO (S&D) 10.83% (-1.48%) winning 1 seat (nc)
EDEK-Green (S&D) 7.68% (-3.76%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Citizen’s Alliance 6.78% winning 0 seats (nc)
Message of Hope 3.83% winning 0 seats (nc)
ELAM 2.69% (+2.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.42% winning 0 seats (nc)
Cyprus has been especially hard hit by the financial crisis. Cyprus’ huge offshore banking sector speculated on the Greek debt, and came under pressure beginning in 2008-2009 as bad debt ratios rose and they incurred major loses when Greece restructured its debt. The country’s economy collapsed after 2011: in 2013, the worst year of the crisis, the Cypriot GDP shrank by 6% and is projected to remain in recession in 2014 (-4.8%); the public debt has increased from 58.5% in 2009 to 121.5% in 2014, one of the highest public debts in the EU; unemployment has jumped from 5% in 2009 to 19% in 2014, the third highest in the EU. The Cypriot crisis was particularly complicated for EU policymakers and the IMF because the issue was the island’s gigantic and overextended banking sector – in 2011, its banking sector was said to be eight time as big as its GDP. To complicate matters further, a lot of banking deposits were held by wealthy Russians and Russians make up an important share of the local population.
Cyprus had been in trouble for quite some time before 2013, but the government of President Dimitris Christofias, from the communist Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), in office since 2008, initially resisted pressure to seek a bailout from the troika, downplayed the severity of the crisis and opposed implementing austerity and structural reforms. Christofias and the troika didn’t like one another; the latter didn’t trust him to implement structural reforms such as reductions in social spending and public sector wages (which is said to be overstaffed and generously paid compared to the private sector). As the crisis worsened and Cyprus’ credit rating was downgraded, the island was forced to ask for a European bailout in June 2012. Cyprus needed a €17 billion loan spread out over four years, a substantial sum of money representing one year’s worth of the Cypriot GDP; over half of that was needed to recapitalize its banks. In 2011, Cyprus also received a €2.5 billion loan from Russia, which is influential in Cyprus. President Christofias, however, balked at the terms of such deals: he opposed privatization of state assets and was a vocal critic of austerity policies. That being said, his government started introducing austerity policies in 2012 and early 2013: cuts in social spending, a VAT hike and the introduction of retirement contributions for civil servants. With a poor economic record, Christofias did not run for reelection to the presidency in February 2013, and the election was won in a landslide by Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of the conservative pro-EU, pro-bailout and pro-reunification Democratic Rally (DISY). With a more friendly and credible partner, the troika began negotiations for a bailout.
The first bailout agreement in March 2013 represented a major new step in the Eurozone crisis: it imposed a one-time levy on insured and uninsured bank deposits, at a 6.7% rate for deposits up to €100,000 and 9.9% on deposits above that rate. Designed to prevent the island’s banking sector from completely collapsing (but also because Germany didn’t want to loan the full €17 billion and only agreed to €10 billion), the ‘haircut’ on deposits was extremely unpopular and provoked a firestorm in Cyprus and across the EU. A few days later, with pressure from Russia (which was severely irked by the bailout terms) and local protesters, the Parliament rejected the deal. There were worries that Cyprus might be forced to pull out of the eurozone following a tense standoff with the ECB, but a second deal was reached: the Laiki Bank, the second largest bank, would be restructured in a bad bank, spared all insured deposits of €100,000 and less but levied uninsured deposits at the Laiki Bank and 40% of uninsured deposits in the Bank of Cyprus. In the final agreement, no bank levy was imposed, as the Laiki Bank would be directly closed, although uninsured deposits over €100,000 at the Laiki Bank would be lost and those over the same amount at the Bank of Cyprus would be frozen for a haircut if necessary. The Cypriot government also accepted implementation of an anti-money laundering framework, reducing the deficit, structural reforms and privatization. Cyprus also imposed capital controls. However, the first botched bailout was not forgotten in collective memories across Europe, with many fearing that there was now a precedent for ‘bail-ins’ and haircuts in the EU. It also soured Cypriots’ opinion of the EU, fueled by the view that they were the victims of the crisis and were unfairly blamed and punished for it.
With its business model destroyed, the country fell into a deep and painful recession, although the intensity of the recession did not turn out as bad as was predicted last spring and tourism didn’t perform nearly as bad as expected due to Russian tourists. In February 2014, the anti-reunification Democratic Rally (DIKO)’s cabinet ministers resigned and the Parliament did not pass a privatization program, which controversially privatized electricity, telecommunications and ports. A few days later, however, Parliament adopted a revised privatization program, which aims to raise €1.4 billion to pay back the next €156 million aid tranche. International creditors had threatened to withhold payments. The other part of the story behind DIKO’s resignation was its opposition to the reopening of talks with the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north (the TRNC); the issue has been at an impasse since Greek Cypriots in the south rejected the 2004 Annan Plan to reunify the island in a referendum right before it joined the EU, but Anastasiades and DISY were the only leading southern politicians to call for a yes vote in 2004 (Christofias and AKEL are pro-reunification, but Christofias had crucially failed to endorse the yes at the last moment).
The EP election saw extremely low turnout, by Cypriot standards. In 2004, turnout was 72.5%, but it fell to a low of 59.4% in 2009. For comparison, in the 2013 presidential election, over 80% of the electorate had turned out. This year, turnout collapsed below 50%, to 44% – an all-time low. The cause of the low turnout is likely political dissatisfaction and growing apathy – Cyprus hasn’t seen major social movements or protests against the austerity policies imposed, unlike Greece or Spain. As predicted by local pollsters, in a low turnout election, most voters were party loyalists who voted along the traditional party lines. The governing DISY won the election; Anastasiades has managed to shrug off the humiliation of March 2013. However, despite a strong victory, its actual number of voters – because of the low turnout – falls far short of what DISY won in 2009 or 2013. The major loser was the communist AKEL, the former ruling party, which suffered from the demobilization of its electorate, traditionally loyal, after the disastrous record of AKEL’s last term in government. AKEL’s anti-credibility also lacks in credibility. Cyprus stands out from the rest of Europe – and the world – for the strength of the communist movement on the island, which has been active since the 1920s and present in Parliament since independence. AKEL generally tended to support Archbishop Makarios’ government and oppose the enosist (union with Greece) far-right before 1974. DISY was founded as the most pro-Western and pro-NATO centre-right party in 1976 after the invasion, by Glafkos Clerides.
The two smaller parties, the anti-reunification DIKO and the social democratic EDEK (founded by Makarios’ physician and Greek nationalist Vassos Lyssarides in 1969; it ran in alliance with the Greens, KOP) lost votes. Smaller parties benefited from the political climate, but failed to win seats. The Citizen’s Alliance, an anti-corruption, Eurosceptic and anti-Turkish party, won 6.8% of the vote. Somewhat notable was the small success of ELAM (National Popular Front), a far-right/neo-Nazi party tied to Greece’s Golden Dawn (XA). It won 2.7%, a ‘major’ gain from 2009. With over 6,900 votes, ELAM actually won more votes than it did in 2013.
DISY won all districts. It won its biggest victory in the small Greek Cypriot portion of Ammochostos/Famagusta district, with 47.9%, but only 14,000 or so votes were cast. AKEL was defeated in Larnaca district, the traditional communist bastion on the island, with 33.7% to DISY’s 39.2%. In Pafos district, EDEK suffered major loses, losing 8% of the vote.
Turnout: 18.20% (-15.43%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)
ANO 2011 (ALDE) 16.13% (+16.13%) winning 4 seats (+4)
TOP 09-STAN (EPP) 15.95% (+15.95%) winning 4 seats (+4)
ČSSD (S&D) 14.17% (-8.21%) winning 4 seats (-3)
KSČM (GUE-NGL) 10.98% (-3.2%) winning 3 seats (-1)
KDU-ČSL (EPP) 9.95% (+2.31%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ODS (ECR) 7.67% (-23.78%) winning 2 seats (-7)
Svobodní (EFD) 5.24% (+3.98%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirate Party 4.78% (+4.78%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green Party (G-EFA) 3.77% (+1.71%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Úsvit 3.12% (+3.12%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 8.24% (-12.79%) winning 0 seats (nc)
In the past five years, there have been huge changes in Czech politics, which may portend a realignment of the country’s partisan and political system, which is more unstable and exploded than ever before. For years, Czech politics were dominated by the centre-right and Eurosceptic Civic Democrats (ODS), close allies of the British Tories; and the centre-left Social Democrats (ČSSD); ideological differences became muted after the two rivals signed an ‘opposition agreement’ in 1998 in which the ODS agreed to tolerate a ČSSD minority government in return for government jobs and keeping access to the spoils. The 1998 agreement was immediately unpopular, and briefly boosted the prospects of the largely unreformed Communist Party (KSČM) and the centrists, led by the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). It is cited to this day as the moment at which the ODS and ČSSD agreed to share the spoils, betray the voters and allowed politics to become corrupted by a murky group of lobbyists and businessmen. Yet, the system did not collapsed: after both parties did poorly in 2002, they both gained votes after a very polarized and acrimonious closely-fought election in 2006. The ODS formed an unstable government reliant on the KDU-ČSL and the Greens, which fell in early 2009. The 2010 elections were the first sign of major cracks in the system: both the ODS and ČSSD, while still placing on top, won only 20% and 22% respectively, a major fall from 2006. Two new centre-right parties, the pro-European conservative TOP 09 and the ‘anti-corruption’ scam Public Affairs (VV), did very well, and entered government with the ODS, led by Petr Nečas.
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. Rigid austerity policies – one-point increases in the VAT rates, a new higher tax on high incomes breaking the flat tax (introduced by a previous ODS cabinet), and allowed pensions savings to be diverted into a private fund – were unpopular, and some faced hostility from the right (President Václav Klaus, a controversial and brash Eurosceptic, opposed the VAT hike and disliked the pension reform). The Czech Republic suffered a double-dip recession, and is projected to start growing again – but slowly – only this year. The government turned out to be awash with corrupt politicians – it was revealed that VV was actually part of a business plan for a security company owned by the party’s unofficial leader and cabinet minister Vit Bárta, who also bribed VV MPs in return for their loyalty. VV split and rapidly collapsed. In June 2013, Nečas’ chief of staff and mistress (the two have since married), was arrested along with military intelligence officials and ODS MPs; she was accused of asking military intelligence to spy on three civilians, including Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ then-wife; and brokering a bribery deal to convince three rebel ODS MPs to resign to save the government on the VAT hike vote in 2012. Nečas, who had been known as ‘Mr. Clean’, was forced to resign and the ODS’ support, which had already collapsed to only 12% in the 2012 regional elections, fell in the single digits. President Miloš Zeman, a brash and sharp-elbowed former ČSSD Prime Minister (who later left the party), who won the first direct presidential election in early 2013, controversially appointed a cabinet of friends and allies which did not receive the confidence of the Chamber and forced snap elections in October 2013.
The October 2013 elections saw major political changes. The ČSSD, torn apart by a feud between the anti-Zeman leadership (Bohuslav Sobotka) and a pro-Zeman rebel group (Michal Hašek) and weakened by corruption of its own, once again sabotaged its own campaign and won an all-time low of 20.5% – although they still placed first. The ODS, worn down by corruption and the economy, collapsed to fifth place with 7.7%. TOP 09, a pro-European party which otherwise shares much of the ODS’ low-tax, small government and pro-business agenda, surpassed the ODS, taking 12%, although it lost 4.7% of its vote from the 2010 election. TOP 09’s unofficial leader and popular mascot is Karel Schwarzenberg, the colourful and popular prince and former foreign minister; the party’s actual boss is the far less glamorous Miroslav Kalousek, a somewhat slimy politico who came from the KDU-ČSL. The KSČM placed third with 14.9%, a strong result but not the party’s best; the KSČM has a strong and loyal core of support and it has always done well when the ČSSD is unpopular or discredited (in 2002 and 2004, for example, or in 2012), but the party, despite some evolution, remains a controversial pariah which has not officially supported or participated in a national government (but governs regionally with the ČSSD). The sensation, however, came from ANO 2011 – a new populist party founded and led by Andrej Babiš, a billionaire businessman (owner of Agrofert, a large agricultural, agrifood and chemical company in the country) of Slovak origin. Babiš campaigned on an attractive anti-system, anti-corruption, anti-politician and pro-business centre-right platform which denounced professional politicians, corruption, government interference in the economy and promised low taxes. But Babiš is a controversial man – during the campaign, Slovak documents alleged that he was a collaborator and agent of the communist regime’s secret police; Babiš has been compared to Silvio Berlusconi, and raised eyebrows when he bought the country’s largest media group before the elections. ANO 2011 placed second with 18.7%. Úsvit (Dawn of Direct Democracy), another new right-wing populist party founded by eccentric and idiosyncratic Czech-Japanese businessman and senator Tomio Okamura, won 6.9%. Described by opponents as ‘proto-fascist’, Úsvit, which called for direct democracy and a right-wing economic/fiscal agenda (low taxes, attacking people ‘a layer of people who do not like to work’), controversially called on ‘gypsies’ to be sent back to India. Úsvit’s anti-corruption outrage rings hollow, because one of its candidates (who lost) was Vit Bárta.
Government formation was complicated by tensions between the ČSSD and ANO, which had not had kind words for one another; and tensions within the ČSSD, where Hašek’s supporters, likely with Zeman’s underhanded support, unwisely and unsuccessfully tried to topple Sobotka. Despite Zeman’s obvious misgivings about Sobotka and his desire to continue influencing the government, in January 2014, he agreed to appoint Sobotka as Prime Minister at the helm of a coalition government with the ČSSD, ANO and KDU-ČSL. Notwithstanding some very real policy differences and partisan tensions between the two main partners, the coalition has agreed to a moderate platform, which aims to keep the budget deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, eliminate healthcare user fees, raise pension payments and the minimum wage, lowering the VAT on some products, rolling back the ODS’ pension reforms, tax breaks for families with children and may lower compensation payments to churches (the ODS government controversially signed a deal to return real estate valued at 75 billion CZK to churches and offer financial compensation of 59 billion CZK). It will also take a more pro-EU direction than the ODS, having pledged to ratify the European Fiscal Compact. ANO sends mixed messages on Europe, trying to be both pro-EU and sufficiently Eurosceptic at the same time. Babiš is finance minister in the new government, and his continued ownership of Agrofert has led to accusations of conflict of interest.
The EP election saw extremely low turnout, down from 28.3% in 2004 and 28.2% in 2009 (which was already low, even for low-stakes elections in the country), reaching only 18.2% of the vote. With a fairly popular government still in honeymoon with little controversies yet, there was likely even less motivation to vote this year. As in the last two EP elections, it appears that the electorate which turns out is to the right of the average voter: compared to national polling, the ČSSD and KSČM did slightly worse (they’re currently polling 19-21% and 14-17% respectively) while TOP 09, polling 8-11%, did quite well. ANO, which is polling very well nationally (20-28%), did not do as well; while it pulls mostly from voters who had backed the right in 2010, it is a more rural and regional base lacking the Czech right’s traditional well-off urban component. Turnout figures regionally confirm pro-right differential turnout, with the highest turnout being recorded in Prague, the right’s (TOP 09) stronghold, at 25.8%, while turnout was below 20% in every other region and very low (15%) in Moravia-Silesia, the Social Democrats’ strongest region (and 13% in Karviná district, a coal mining area where the party had won 32% in 2013). In Prague, TOP 09 received 27% against 14.5% for ANO.
ANO topped the poll with 16.1%, just ahead of TOP 09, which won 16%. The left – ČSSD and KSČM – did poorly because of low leftist turnout, winning only 14.2% and 11% respectively, in both cases this represents a substantial loss from the last EP election in 2009 (where the ČSSD had done poorly as well). The KDU-ČSL did well, winning nearly 10% of the vote and topped the poll in Vysočina, South Moravia and Zlín regions, dominating their traditional rural clerical Moravian strongholds. A small anti-EU party, Svobodní (Party of Free Citizens) won 5.2% and one seat; the party, which is close to UKIP and whose new MEP (and leader) is a former adviser to Klaus, supports a small government, low taxes and abolishing subsidies and income taxes. The party is anti-EU, wishing to transform it into a voluntary free trade association or to leave the EU to join the EFTA; it opposed Lisbon and the euro, and now opposes the European Fiscal Compact. Having won less votes than in 2013 (when it won 2.5%), the party likely owes its entrance into the EP to the higher turnout in Prague, where it won over 7% of the vote.
The map on the left shows the results by municipality. TOP 09 clearly dominated Prague, Brno and Plzeň; ANO was strongest, like in 2013, in right-leaning areas of Bohemia, outside the urban centres in towns and rural areas (and in places where Agrofert is a major employer); the ČSSD managed to top the poll in industrial Silesia but few other places; the KSČM was strongest in North Bohemia and other former Sudeten German territory (which was re-settled by Czechs post-1945); the KDU-ČSL dominated rural Moravia.
Ihned’s ever-useful data blog has a tool (in Czech, but Google Translate does fine) allowing you to see average results in towns based on certain sociodemographic filters. It confirms the link between turnout and stronger support for TOP 09: where turnout was above the national average, TOP 09’s vote share was 6.9% above its national average; the ODS, Svobodní, the Pirates and the Greens also performed better where turnout was higher, while ČSSD and KSČM clearly did poorer where turnout was higher. ANO did slightly better in areas with lower turnout. The other demographic filters give a good portrait of the voter base of each party. Unsurprisingly, the strongest correlation is between KDU-ČSL and religiosity in this very atheist country – in areas where the share of the faithful is above the national average (which appears to be 14%), the Christian Democrats placed first with 18.1%. The party’s support rise exponentially as the share of the faithful increase in any given area, taking 30% where it is above 28%, 36% where it is over 40% and 43.2% in the few municipalities where more than half of the population are religious. TOP 09’s traditional supporter was very urban, young, not married, very well educated (post-secondary), employed, living in a house and probably an entrepreneur or self-employed. The ČSSD and KSČM had a slightly older, less urban, less educated (especially the Communists) electorate which was also more likely to be unemployed (especially for the KSČM) and far more likely to be an employee. ANO’s support was fairly composite; with no clear core voter base: the party’s average voter is slightly more likely to be an entrepreneur or self-employed, a bit less likely to be unemployed but otherwise its support is less clear-cut than that of TOP 09, ODS and even Svobodní (the right-wing parties). Like in 2013, ANO likely attracted a very demographically and ideologically varied electorate.
Turnout: 56.32% (-1.38%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (national constituency), seats distributed to alliances (separate lists with votes being pooled together) and then to independent lists (de jure 2% threshold)
O (DF) – Danish People’s Party (EFD > ECR) 26.61% (+11.33%) winning 4 seats (+2)
A (SD) – Social Democrats (S&D) 19.12% (-2.37%) winning 3 seats (-1)
V – Venstre (ALDE) 16.68% (-3.56%) winning 2 seats (-1)
F (SF) – Socialist People’s Party (G-EFA) 10.95% (-4.92%) winning 1 seat (-1)
C – Conservative People’s Party (EPP) 9.15% (-3.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
N – People’s Movement against the EU (GUE-NGL) 8.07% (+0.87%) winning 1 seat (nc)
B (RV) – Social Liberals (ALDE) 6.54% (+2.27%) winning 1 seat (+1)
I – Liberal Alliance 2.88% (+2.29%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The right-wing populist/far-right Danish People’s Party (DF, or by its ballot paper abbreviation, O) won a remarkable victory – its biggest electoral success, both in terms of percentage and number of votes – in the party’s history, confirming that the party, on the upswing since the 2011 legislative election, is stronger than ever before and is now in a position to compete with the traditional parties of the left (Social Democrats, A) and right (Venstre/Liberals, V) for power.
The left bloc – led by the Social Democrats and made of the green/left-wing Socialist People’s Party (SF), the left-liberal Social Liberals (RV) with external support from the far-left Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten, Ø) – very narrowly won the 2011 elections, ending ten years of right bloc rule – by the centre-right Liberals (V) and Conservatives (C) with external support from the DF. It was already a somewhat Pyrrhic victory, because the SDs, led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, saw their support decline even further (to an historic low of 24.8%) while only RV – which gained 8 seats, to take 17 seats and Ø – which won an historic 6.7% ans 12 seats made gains (SF, which won an historic 13% in 2007, fell to 9%). The left’s victory owed mostly to the gains made its most right-wing and left-wing components, and general fatigue with a tired right-wing government. Helle Thorning-Schmidt (‘Gucci Helle’), the notoriously aloof and ‘snobby’ SD leader, was already fairly unpopular in 2011. Since then, the government, and the SDs in particular, has become badly unpopular.
The government, initially made up of ministers from the SDs, SF and RV, adopted a rather right-wing economic and fiscal policy which dismayed many of the left’s voters and led to major tensions with the Red-Greens, who provided outside support to the government. Soon after taking office, the new government was compelled to accept sharp cuts in the efterløn, a scheme which lets workers retire early on a reduced pension – the policy is popular with manual works in physically demanding jobs, but unpopular with white-collar workers and academics. The outgoing right-wing government, with the backing of the Social Liberals (whose economic and fiscal policy is fairly right-leaning and supportive of lower taxes and a slightly less generous welfare state), had passed a reduction in the efterløn and an increase in the retirement age; after coming into office, the SDs and SF accepted the new policy – after the SDs had vigorously campaigned against changes to the efterløn in the 2011 election. In June 2012, the government agreed to a tax reforms with the Liberals and Conservatives, which increased the top tax threshold (thus reducing taxes on the wealthy) and employment allowance (reducing the taxes on wages) and reduced state benefits (unemployment insurance, early retirement, child benefits); with the aim of increasing labour output, enticing Danes to work more and increasing the the economic benefit of working relative to receiving welfare. The government argued that it was taking difficult but necessary long-term measures to address demographic challenges to Denmark’s aging workforce, but the very neoliberal flavour of the tax reform infuriated the Red-Greens and threw SF, already criticized for having moved to the right to increase the party’s ‘respectability’, in a difficult position. Relations between the government and the Red-Greens were severely damaged; while an increasingly large number of SF voters (and some SD voters) defected to Ø, a process which actually begun in the 2011 election, when SF had lost a share of its most left-wing 2007 voters to Ø. At the same time, the right bloc took a decisive lead in polls; the SDs lost a number of working-class supporters to the DF and V, likely the result of voters disgruntled by the government’s shift on efterløn, a slight liberalization of tough immigration policies (under DF pressure, the previous VC government had adopted some of the EU’s strictest immigration laws, including the 24-year-rule, which imposes strict conditions on family reunification and spouses’ immigration; the left has largely kept these popular rules in place, while liberalizing the more contentious aspects, such as the heavily reduced social benefits for immigrants and detention centres for asylum seekers being processed), the mediocre economic situation, government scandals and mishaps and broken promises.
In September 2012, SF leader Villy Søvndal, who had led the party’s shift towards the centre and ‘respectability’ between 2007 and 2011 and supported close collaboration with the SDs in government, stepped down. In a high-stakes leadership race, Annette Vilhelmsen, a SF MP positioned on the party’s left, defeated health minister Astrid Krag, the candidate of the party’s ‘right’. Although Vilhelmsen dumped Thor Möger Pedersen, the young and unpopular (with the SF’s left) taxation minister and shifted rhetoric to the left, her election did not signal a major shift in the SF’s behaviour in government – it still played second-fiddle to the stronger SDs – nor did it turn around the SF’s sinking polling numbers (in 2013, SF’s numbers sank further, in the 3-5% range, while Ø polled up to 10-14%). The government – especially SD and SF – continued to be badly unpopular in 2013, with the right retaining a decisive lead (about 55-45 for the right bloc in total). A social assistance reform (which reduced benefits for young people and added more stringent eligibility rules; it was approved in August 2013 with the support of all four right-wing parties and the opposition of Ø) and the continued mediocrity of the economy (weak growth in 2013, unemployment at 7%) meant that the Social Democrats saw their support collapse even further, falling to 15-18% in early 2013 before edging back over 20% later in the year. V, which was still polling over 30%, DF and Ø all took their shares of SD voters. SF voters from 2011 divided between loyalty, moving to the left (Ø) or doing like some party members and parliamentarians did (move to the SDs).
In November 2013, the government passed its budget with support from V and C, after failing to bridge differences with Ø. The budget included millions in concessions to businesses and for higher job allowances. Although unpopular on the left, its effect was mitigated by V’s troubles, after the party’s leader and former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen was accused of spending over a million kroner on luxury flights and hotels in his capacity as chairman of the Global Green Growth Initiative – which is publicly funded by the Danish government. However, development minister Christian Friis Bach (RV) was forced to resign as well, after it turned out that he had lied about the government not approving the expensive travel rules).
In late January 2014, the government ran into yet another crisis with a deal to sell 19% of DONG Energy – Denmark’s largest energy company (of which the government owned 81%) – to the American investment bank Goldman Sachs. The deal attracted criticism from the left and DF because of Goldman Sachs’ role in the financial crisis and their plan to buy the shares via tax havens to pay less taxes in Denmark. The issue reopened the question of SF’s participation in government, and led to internal chaos in the party: the SF executive narrowly voted to accept the sale, some opponents of the deal in SF resigned, Ø pushed a parliamentary motion to postpone the sell to force SF MPs to take a stance and finally it culminated with SF leader Vilhelmsen announcing her resignation and that SF was leaving the government (but would continue to support it). Thorning-Schmidt shuffled her cabinet, creating a new government with the SDs and RV. SF voted in favour of the sale in committee, honouring the executive committee’s decision. Supporters of the government within SF ranks – largely supporters of former SF leader Villy Søvndal from the pro-SD ‘workerite’ right of SF – defected to the SDs, including defeated leadership contender Astrid Krag (who nevertheless lost her health portfolio) and former Communist stalwart Ole Sohn. Pia Olsen Dyhr, a member of SF’s ‘green right-wing’, was acclaimed as SF’s new leader.
A month after this crisis, the government ran into another hot potato which stoked Eurosceptic sentiments ahead of the EP election. The old right-wing government tried to limit EU nationals’ ability to receive child benefits by requiring that they have lived or worked in Denmark for two of the last ten years. In 2013, the EU Commission notified Copenhagen that this was not in accordance with EU law (as it discriminated against other EU nationals), and the Danish government began administering according to EU law, which takes precedence, and in February 2014 it proposed a law to amend Danish legislation to make it consistent with EU law. The opposition (V, C, DF, Liberal Alliance) and Ø (which denounced ‘bowing down’ to the EU and called on the government to follow Danish law) supported a motion reaffirming the Danish law. To mitigate the boost which DF received, at the expense of both V (which had some reticence about taking such a tough anti-EU stance) and the SDs, the government proposed tougher controls of EU citizens’ access to welfare benefits. In early May, the government was voted down on the motion on child benefits – with the opposition parties, including the Liberals, and the Red-Greens voting in favour of the motion and the government and SF voting against. In practice, the government will keep administering the law according to EU directives.
In this context, DF won a crushing victory. The party received 26.6% of the vote, by far the party’s highest vote share ever (the previous record, set five years ago, was 15.3%); but it also received the highest raw vote in its history – 605,889 votes, easily surpassing the previous record, which was 479.5k votes in the 2007 legislative election. DF benefited from national dynamics in its favour, but also a personality factor. Nationally, DF has been on an upswing since it lost votes and seats for the first time in its history in the 2011 election. Cashing in on the feeling of betrayal by the left of working-class voters, DF has made inroads with workers and SD voters: according to a study in February, 12% of SD voters from the last election would now vote for DF, along with an estimated 9% of SF and V voters from 2011. In the last weeks drawing up to the EP election, DF additionally benefited from two events: firstly, the political debate on child benefits for EU nationals and the application of EU law over the Danish law and secondly, a new scandal about V leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen using his party’s purse to pay for his clothes and a family vacation down south. In both cases, these events reflected badly on the Liberals, whose support in national polling has declined significantly as a result. In the first case, the child benefits debate increased latent Eurosceptic feelings and allowed DF to attract V supporters for the EP elections. In the second case, V was the target of attacks from the media and the right-wing partners (C, DF, Liberal Alliance). Secondly, DF had the strongest top candidate of all parties in this open-list election. Incumbent DF MEP Morten Messerschmidt is quite popular and he’s the most well-known MEP: already in 2009 he had broken the Danish record for most personal preferential votes in an EP election (set by former SD PM Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in 2004). This year, he broke his own record for most preferential votes in an EP election in Denmark, winning 465,758 preferential votes or 20.5% of all votes cast. His closest competitor, SD MEP-elect Jeppe Kofod won only 170,739 preferential votes (7.5%).
DF will probably not perform as well in a national election, but it is clear that the party’s fortunes are clearly really looking up these days. More than a few recent national polls have indicated that DF may become the largest right-wing party, ahead of the Liberals – some polls have even placed them as the single largest party nationally; if replicated in an election, it would be a phenomenal success for the party and create a highly interesting situation for government-formation. Most recent polls have placed DF party at over 20% – for comparison’s sake, DF won 12.3% in 2011 and its record high in a national election is only 13.8% (2007). Over the past few years, DF has successfully managed its first leadership transition in its history (DF’s founder and polarizing, but highly successful, leader Pia Kjærsgaard retired in 2012 and was succeeded by her dauphin, Kristian Thulesen Dahl) and a bid to make the party more respectable. Kjærsgaard had fairly successfully built up the party and given it its distinctive anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-multiculturalism, Eurosceptic and pro-welfare state (DF has more interventionist economic policies, by far, than the traditional right, supporting the welfare state and strong social benefits for Danish citizens) image. She gained significant influence over Danish politics by way of her influence over the previous VC government and particularly its immigration policies. Kristian Thulesen Dahl must give the party further respectability, perhaps with the aim of establishing DF as a major and leading force of the Danish mainstream right. The party is already highly disciplined and mature; it is now moving to adopt less extreme and more ‘respectable’ policies, notably on immigration. DF’s trouble is that, in first place, it would have a hard time finding allies, although some low-ranking SD members have expressed sympathy for a SD-DF coalition (which seems to exist locally in the working-class suburb of Hvidovre since the 2013 locals). DF is careful of who it hangs out with: it considers the French and Austrian far-right to be far too extreme and disreputable, and it has instead sat with UKIP in the EFD group and has now successfully courted the British Conservative-led ECR group. In the new EP, DF’s 4 MEPs will sit with the ECR group. It’s a major boon for DF; allowing it to compare itself to the Tories rather than be compared to the FN or FPÖ.
DF swept most of Denmark outside of Copenhagen and the city of Aarhus (and the island of Bornholm, which recorded a weird large swing to the SDs) – it won areas which have traditionally leaned to both the Social Democrats and the Liberals. DF won phenomenal numbers in Copenhagen’s suburbs – particularly the working-class and SD-leaning suburbs, such as Tårnby (35%), Brøndby (35%) and Hvidovre (34%), which were already DF strongholds; but DF also topped the poll in more middle-class SD suburbs such as Ballerup (32%), Rødovre (29.6%) and even the fairly affluent Lyngby in the right-leaning northern suburbs (18%). In Zealand, DF also performed remarkably well, with results over 30% in most districts. It also did very well in Lolland district (35.5%), an area with a rural working-class (sugar beets) and shipbuilding (Nakskov) tradition where SF was quite strong until recently. DF performed quite well in Jutland, especially so in the old industrial towns of Fredericia (35%) and Frederikshavn (35.1%). DF’s traditional electorate is old, blue-collar (and probably retired blue-collar) and with lower levels of education.
The Social Democrats lost one of their seats, and their vote fell by 2.4% to only 19.1%; however, things could have been worse for them: they placed second, ahead of an embattled Liberal Party and SD has not usually performed well in Danish EP elections, where some of its voters have sometimes tended to support other left-wing parties or Eurosceptic/anti-EU lists unique to EP elections. The SDs suffered from the unpopularity of the government, and the party’s situation remains difficult, but there was no collapse as there could have been. The main loser was instead V, which won only 16.7% and lost one of their 3 seats – ending up with only 2. The Liberals, in addition to the challenges mentioned above and DF/Messerschmidt’s attraction for V supporters, also had a mediocre top candidate who did not draw many votes to her name. V’s top candidate, Ulla Tørnæs, who only 6% of votes cast, is a former cabinet minister with a mediocre electoral record and reputation; she was chosen to replace the party’s stronger initial candidate, who got pregnant and over MEP Jens Rohde, who was too pro-EU integration for the party’s tastes. V’s terrible result placed significant pressure on the party’s leader, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, to resign at a crisis meeting of the party’s central committee. Although he was expected to resign, Lars Løkke Rasmussen survived the party’s meeting on June 3. The EP disaster and the scandals have hit the Liberals very badly: one shock poll from June 2 showed V in third, with only 14.5% support, while the government – for the first time since the election – led the opposition, 51.5% to 48.5%.
SF’s support naturally fell back from the party’s record performance in 2009, but with 11% of the vote, it remains a surprisingly strong performance for the party. Since leaving government, SF has gradually dug itself out of the hole it dug itself into, likely regaining the support of voters who left it for Ø during its stint in government – indeed, polls have shown that SF’s small gains (up to about 6%, which is still pretty bad) have mostly come at the expense of Ø, which is now under 10% in most polls. In the EP election, SF, which was defending only one seat after its second MEP defected to the SDs, was helped by incumbent MEP Margrete Auken, who won 6.7% of the preferential votes. Additionally, because Ø does not run in EP elections – its electorate usually supports the anti-EU People’s Movement against the EU (N, FolkeB) – some ex-SF voters who would now vote Ø nationally chose to vote SF for the EP. SF placed first support in the very left-wing downtown Copenhagen, after the party suffered major loses in the city in last year’s local elections.
The Conservatives (C) did quite well, all things considered. The party suffered a huge swing in the 2011 elections, when the party’s vote collapsed to an historic low of 4.9% (from over 10% in 2007 and 2003) and lost 10 seats, left with only 8 MPs. The party has been shackled with very poor leadership since 2008, and the Conservatives have lost a lot of their natural bases and key distinctive themes to other parties of the right: current C leader Lars Barfoed has taken the party in a more anti-DF and centrist (and ‘humanist’, in touch with C’s claim to be more socially-concerned and humanitarian than V) direction. In 2011, a fairly meaningless pact with the RV to cooperate across the centre worried the party’s right-wingers that it was shifting away from its traditional place in the bourgeois right-wing bloc. The Liberal Alliance, under current leader Anders Samuelsen, has shifted to the right in a libertarian direction, stealing C’s traditional call for lower taxes and small government in 2011; C’s other old core issue – national defense and patriotism – is a lesser issue, and national conservatives have likely gone over to the DF. Since 2011, the party has not made a recovery – it remains at its low levels from the last election, and polls have indicate that it has suffered from continued bleeding to the Liberals and the Liberal Alliance, the beneficiaries of C’s collapse in 2011. In the EP election, the Liberal Alliance ran a little-known candidate and did not join the V-C ‘electoral alliance’ (which would have made it easier for them to win a seat), and the party’s list got only 2.9%, compared to the 5% it won in 2011 and what it polls today (5-6%). The Conservatives also had a good top candidate: former C leader Bendt Bendtsen, who could be seen as the party’s last somewhat successful leader. He won 6.6% of preferential votes.
The People’s Movement against the EU(N) is an old left-wing anti-EU (it still seeks to leave the EU) movement, which only runs in EP elections, and is sometimes – inaccurately – seen as the EP equivalent of Ø. Its emphasis is more anti-EU – albeit from a clear leftist perspective (social dumping) – than ideologically far-left/socialist, and it likely has a somewhat broader electorate than Ø’s very left-wing base (while not all Ø voters may support N). N actually won the first EP elections in 1979, but its support declined consistently in every election after that until 2004, when the party reached a low of 5.2%. Between 1994 and 2004, it suffered from the competition of the anti-Maastricht (but not anti-EU membership) June Movement, which peaked at 16% in 1999 and lost its last seat in 2009. In 2009, FolkeB increased its support; it managed to do so again this year, despite being led by a little-known new MEP, Rina Ronja Kari. It likely benefited a bit, but not fully, from Ø’s popularity.
The Social Liberals, running in alliance with SD and SF, regained the seat it had lost in 2009, taking 6.5% of the vote.
Turnout was down on 2009, but remained high – by Danish EP election standards (not by national election standards) – at 56.3%. Like in 2009, a referendum likely drew out some more voters. This year, voters were asked to ratify Denmark’s participation in the EU’s Unified Patent Court. 62.5% voted in favour. DF and Ø had pushed the government to hold a referendum.
Turnout: 36.52% (-7.36%)
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (national constituency), no threshold
Reform Party (ALDE) 24.3% (+9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Centre Party (ALDE) 22.4% (-3.7%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (EPP) 13.9% (+4.9%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Democratic Party (S&D) 13.6% (+4.5%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Independent – Indrek Tarand (G-EFA) 13.2% (-12.6%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Conservative People’s Party 4% (+1.8%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Tanel Talve 3.1% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Silver Meikar 1.8% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonian Independence Party 1.3% winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.5% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonia’s governing centre-right Reform Party won the EP elections and took two seats. The Baltic country’s economy is highly liberalized, something which has made it something of a ‘poster child’ for fiscal orthodoxy and economic liberalism on the right. Estonia introduced a flat tax in 1994, which remains in place at the rate of 21%, lowered from 26%. The country has been governed since 2005 by the Reform Party (RE), an economically liberal centre-right party which under Prime Minister Andrus Ansip (2005-2014) followed an orthodox fiscal policy which has paid off for the country – or at least in part. Estonia’s debt-to-GDP ratio is only 10%, the lowest in the EU, and it has only a tiny deficit of 0.4%. The country has a high rate of start-up businesses and a heavy use of new technologies (Estonia famously introduced e-voting, using a biometric ID card system, in 2007), and right-wing think tanks give the country splendid marks on rankings of ‘economic freedom’ or the ease of doing business. The economic stability allowed Estonia to become the first Baltic state to join the Eurozone, in January 2011. The country’s growth, nevertheless, has been patchy since the global recession hit: in 2009, the economy shrank by 14% due to a property bubble, after having solid growth between 6-10% between 2000 and 2007. In 2011, an export boom and the government’s fiscal policies allowed the country’s economy to recover, growing by 9.6%. But since then, growth has slowed to 0.8% last year and 2% projected for 2014. The country’s relatively strong economic performance has made it the focus of academic debates abroad: on the right, many hold it up as the success story of austerity policies (implemented in 2008-9) but others, notably Paul Krugman, pointed out Estonia’s ‘incomplete’ recovery (in Krugman’s case, it earned him a strong rebuke from the Estonian President)
The Reform Party was reelected in 2011, taking 33 seats in the 101-seat legislature (a small gain of three seats). Since then, however, the government and Ansip’s popularity tapered off, and RE’s polling numbers declined considerably in 2013, falling behind one or more of the three other important parties. A major cause of this rising unpopularity may have been ‘Silvergate’ – a former RE MP (Silver Meikar) alleged that the Reform Party received anonymous dubious donations. Although the government did its best to slide the issue under the rug, the justice minister was forced to resign in December 2012, having been accused of being aware and even involved in the illegal channeling of funds. It was the most important of several corruption scandals which weakened the government, along with rising voter fatigue in an increasingly arrogant government. In March 2014, Ansip resigned. It was expected that Siim Kallas, RE’s founding father and former Prime Minister (2002-2003) and EU Commissioner since 2004, would ‘swap jobs’ with Ansip, allowing Ansip to join the EU Commission while Kallas became Prime Minister. However, Kallas unexpectedly withdrew his names after negotiations with the Social Democrats (SDE) and instead Taavi Rõivas, who is only 34, became Prime Minister, in coalition with the SDE (replacing the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, IRL).
Ideological differences are fairly muted in a fairly enclosed and elitist political system: the SDE, the fourth largest party, and the Centre Party (KESK), the main opposition party, both favour a progressive income tax but in both cases these parties are moderate and not markedly different from the government. The right-wing IRL is similar to Reform, with an added populist bent and more traditionalist, conservative outlook than Reform (a party of young-ish technocrats and professionals). SDE is not descended from a communist party, unlike a lot of its Eastern European partners, and some of its founding components even have right-wing roots; its policies are very moderate and left-wing socialist politics are toxic in Estonia. All four parties have been in government with Reform at some time since 2005.
KESK, the main opposition party, is controversial and divisive. Although sometimes identified as a ‘social liberal’ or left-liberal party, KESK is primarily a populist party whose positions are oftentimes hardly ‘socially liberal’. It is also something of a personal machine, with a heavy-handed strongman as its leader since 1991: Edgar Savisaar, a former Prime Minister (1992-1993) and the mayor of Tallinn. Savisaar has run his party with an iron fist, throwing out party members who have questioned his leadership, and has a bad reputation for corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism as mayor of the capital. KESK’s strongest support comes from the country’s Russian minority, a fact which adds to the party’s divisiveness in the country. Russians make up 26.1% of the population, with a significant minority (37%) in Tallinn and a large majority (73%) in the easternmost county of Ida-Viru, which borders Russia. Although a small minority of Russian Old Believers (about 8% of the population in the 1930s) were present prior to the Soviet Union’s invasion and annexation, the bulk of the Russian minority moved forcibly or voluntarily to Estonia under Soviet rule, which has made them illegal immigrants in the eyes of the most radical Estonian nationalists. In 1992, Estonia, like Latvia, restored citizenship to those who had Estonian citizenship prior to the 1940 invasion and their descendants (on the basis of state continuity); this left most Russians without citizenship, and the option to choose between naturalization (requiring basic knowledge of Estonian, the constitution and the citizenship act), acquiring Russian citizenship or remaining ‘undetermined’. Most have opted for naturalization, but in 2014, 6.5% of residents remained with ‘undetermined citizenship’ and 9.2% were foreign nationals (mostly Russians). Relations with Russia and the issue of the Russian minority remains a highly contentious and divisive issue both diplomatically and domestically. Savisaar has been accused of ties to Russian politicians and KESK has received donations from Russian companies and is said to have close ties with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. In 2012, six MPs and the party’s two MEPs left the party, opposing Savisaar’s leadership.
The Reform Party, with EU Commission-hopeful Andrus Ansip as its top candidate, topped the poll, gaining 9% over its weak performance in 2009. Ansip was the most-voted individual candidates, receiving over 450,000 votes. Kaja Kallas, the daughter of Siim Kallas and a RE MP, won a second EP seat for the party, taking nearly 21,500 votes. The Centre Party was the only major party to suffer loses, losing nearly 4% of its support from 2009 and its second MEP seat. Notably, KESK leader Edgar Savisaar failed to win a seat: Yana Toom, a naturalized former Russian citizen, was elected as KESK’s only MEP, with 25,251 votes while Savisaar received only 18,516 votes. KESK’s support remained highly localized, topping the poll in only two locations: in Ida-Viru county, with 59.5% and in the city of Tallinn, with 31.6%. The two smaller parties, IRL and SDE, gained ground and held their single MEP mandate. Independent candidate Indrek Tarand, a colourful former civil servant, journalist and TV personality, was elected to the EP in 2009 on an anti-establishment protest vote, following the decision to switch to closed lists for the 2009 EP election. He won a remarkable 25.8% in 2009, and would have won a second seat if he had another candidate on his list (the seat instead went to SDE, which won only 8.7%); he drew votes across the board, except from KESK. Tarand joined the G-EFA group and has voted with his group colleagues the vast majority of the time. Tarand was reelected with 43,369 votes or 13.2% of the vote.
Turnout: 41% (+0.7%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (votes for candidates only, not party lists; national constituency), possibility for alliances (see Denmark)
KOK (EPP) 22.6% (-0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
KESK (ALDE) 19.7% (+0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
PS (EFD > ECR) 12.9% (+3.1%) winning 2 seats (+1)
SDP (S&D) 12.3% (-5.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
Greens (G-EFA) 9.3% (-3.1%) winning 1 seat (-1)
VAS (GUE-NGL) 9.3% (+3.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SFP-RKP (ALDE) 6.8% (+0.7%) winning 1 seat (nc)
KD (EPP) 5.2% (+1.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Pirates 0.7% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.2% (+0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The senior governing party, the liberal-conservative National Coalition Party (KOK), topped the polls in the EP elections, while the right-populist and Eurosceptic Finns Party (PS) won a strong but unremarkable result.
Finnish politics were shaken up in the 2011 legislative elections by the remarkable performance of Timo Soini’s Finns Party (formerly known as the ‘True Finns’, until we figured out that we were translating the Swedish name of a party opposed to the active use of the Swedish language), a populist and Eurosceptic party which surged from 4% to 19% between the 2007 and 2011 elections. The Eurozone crisis provoked a surge in latent Eurosceptic sentiments in Finland – a fairly propserous state, but which had suffered from the recession in 2009 (Finnish economic growth fell by over 8.5% in 2009). Voters opposed the European bailouts to Greece and Ireland, with Soini’s PS seizing on the idea that Finnish taxpayers were unjustly burdened with the costs of bailing out reckless spenders in the EU; these bailouts were approved by the then-government, led by the Nordic agrarian Centre Party (KESK). A populist party, the Finns Party mixes social conservatism with economic interventionism and a strong defense of the Finnish welfare state; it is also nationalist and anti-establishment, strongly opposed to the EU and NATO, while critical of Finland’s traditional consensus-driven and coalition-based politics and tight-knit political elite. PS is opposed to multiculturalism and mass immigration, and has proposed much stricter laws on asylum seekers, but unlike a lot of the parties it is compared to, immigration is not the focal point of PS campaigns (although it obviously plays an important role). Compared to the right-populist spectrum in Europe, PS is quite moderate. It claims to be a centrist party and indeed grew out of Finland’s strong Nordic agrarian centrist tradition (where ‘centrist’ does not have the same meaning as elsewhere in the EU), and by its policies and behaviour, it tends to align with other relatively moderate right-populist parties such as DF in Denmark. However, the PS caucus includes oddballs with a penchant for racist and xenophobic comments, so that aspect of right-populism is certainly absent from PS.
In the 2011 election, PS managed to ride a wave of popular dissatisfaction with the three leading parties (which had, in the recent past, all polled within a few percent of one another) – the urban centre-right KOK, the rural Nordic agrarian KESK and the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP) related to the Eurozone bailouts, economic worries at home and protest against Finnish consensual politics. The party drew a composite electorate: from the SDP, it gained traditional working-class voters in mill towns; it ate into KESK’s culturally conservative and isolationist rural base – after all, PS grew out of a rural protest party (SMP) which had peaked at 18 seats in the early 1970s. As a result of this shellshock election, in which the three major parties – but also minor parties such as the Greens (Vihr), the Left Alliance (VAS) and the Christian Democrats (KD) – lost votes, PS ended up a strong third (but only a bit over 1% away from first place) with a record 39 seats. The governing KESK suffered the most, losing 7% of its vote and winning a disastrous fourth place with 15.8%. Timo Soini’s non-negotiable opposition to the Portuguese bailout, however, meant that his party was not included in cabinet, which was led by KOK, the pro-European and pro-NATO party which placed first and which supported the bailouts.
The government formed in June 2011 was a very heterogeneous and broad-based coalition including no less than six parties: led by KOK and chaired by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, it included the SDP, Greens, VAS, the KD and the Swedish People’s Party (SFP-RKP, a liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority, a member of every government since 1972). The PS became the largest opposition party, while the KESK, which has historically been included in most government coalitions because of its place as a ‘hinge party’, joined the opposition. Although PS was not a member of the government, the meanings of its remarkable electoral success in 2011 was not lost on Katainen’s new government. Finland took a ‘hardline’ stance in the Eurozone on the issue of bailouts. It was the only country to demand collateral in exchange for agreeing to the second Greek loan and the Spanish bailout; the government submitted the Portuguese and Spanish bailouts to a parliamentary vote; it has favoured rigid requirements for the use of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and opposed using the ESM to purchase bonds on secondary markets. Within the government, finance minister Jutta Urpalainen, the leader of the traditionally pro-European SDP’s leader, took a tough stance on the euro and bailouts. In the opposition, KESK, which had approved the Greek and Irish bailouts while in power and had been broadly pro-European under centrist Prime Ministers Matti Vanhanen and Mari Kiviniemi, signaled a partial return to its historical Eurosceptic roots upon joining the opposition. KESK’s candidate in the 2012 presidential election – senior politician Paavo Väyrynen, a long-standing member of KESK’s Eurosceptic wing – ran a Euro-critical campaign, claiming that the Eurozone would dissolve and supporting a Finnish exit from the common currency. However, while PS’ success in 2011 signaled the existence of a strong Eurosceptic electorate, the 2012 presidential election showed that most Finnish voters remained pro-EU and pro-euro. Timo Soini won only 9.4% as PS’ presidential candidate; Väyrynen won 17.5% of the vote, failing to qualify for the runoff, which opposed eventual winner Sauli Niinistö (KOK) – a very popular pro-European leader – and Pekka Haavisto, the Greens’ progressive and pro-European candidate.
Finland remains a stable, prosperous country with famously high standards of living, a generous welfare system and an excellent educational system. It remains one of the select few countries in the world with an AAA credit rating, and it has jealously sought to protect it. However, Finland suffered from the recession in 2009, and recovery has been slow and difficult – slower than it has been in Sweden, whose economy has performed better (outside of the Eurozone) since the first recession. Finnish GDP contracted by 1% in 2012 and 1.4% in 2013. Finland’s economy has been negatively impacted by Finnish giant Nokia’s financial troubles, and it is burdened with urgent issues such as a rapidly aging population and a major increase in unit labour costs. The government implemented austerity policies, largely made up of spending cuts with some tax increases (the VAT); in 2013, it did cut corporate taxes by 4% to 20%, which was criticized by VAS, which also forced the government to re-evaluate changes to dividends taxation. The government is planning to advance a €9 billion plan to boost employment and productivity through structural reforms to tackle costs stemming from an aging population. These measures include a social and health reform which would place healthcare management in regional, rather than municipal hands; municipal mergers and incentives to extend careers (but under SDP pressure, raising the retirement age from 63 to 67 appears off the table).
In February 2014, amid austerity backlash due to the struggling economy and pressure from VAS, the government announced that it would drop a target to halt debt growth (spending cuts) – either walking back on some austerity measures, spreading cuts over a longer period or balance them between tax hikes and spending cuts. In late March 2014, VAS decided to leave the government, protesting a new austerity package of €2.3 billion worth of tax increases and spending cuts (including benefit payments to families with young children) to balance the books by 2018 and halt growing indebtedness (now over 60% of GDP). VAS had not performed too poorly in opposition, despite vocal opposition to its partaking in a right-leaning government from some far-left parties and party dissidents, but the government’s austerity measures had become too much for the party. The party which has been ruined by government participation is the SDP, the largest junior partner. SDP leader Jutta Urpalainen, was already a fairly mediocre leader before 2011, and the SDP has been in a sorry state for quite some time – its 2009 EP result (17.5%) was the worst SDP performance on record in a national election and in the 2011 it sunk to only 19.2% support. The SDP struggled in government, as Urpalainen implemented austerity policies and took a hard stance on Eurozone matters, somewhat at odds with the SDP’s base; the SDP’s polling declined from 19% in 2011 to 15-16%. This year, Urpalainen was challenged for the party’s leadership by Antti Rinne, a former trade union leader who engaged the SDP’s base with traditional left-wing rhetoric against austerity. Rinne defeated Urpalainen for the SDP leadership on May 9, 2014 and will replace Urpalainen as finance minister. Rinne favours interventionist pro-growth policies, and is critical of some of the government’s policies – he would like to expand a €600 million stimulus package announced a few months ago.
Jyrki Katainen is set to step down in June 2014, eyeing a EU or international job. Three KOK cabinet ministers have lined up to fight a leadership election in June 2014, which will determine Katainen’s successor as Prime Minister and leader of Finland’s largest party.
KOK remained the single largest party in the EP elections, taking just below 23% of the vote and holding its three seats in the EP. The pro-EU centre-right party’s vote is actually up 2.2% on its 2011 result, although because of low turnout it received over 200,000 votes less than it had in 2011. The ruling party received a strong boost in Finland’s candidate-centered electoral system from EU minister Alexander Stubb, a leading contender to succeed Katainen as Prime Minister. He won 148,190 votes, the most votes received by an individual candidate in this election. In 2009, the most popular candidate was Timo Soini, who had won over 130,000 votes. Stubb’s support was evenly distributed throughout southern Finland, the most urbanized and populated part of the country and KOK’s traditional base; he did particularly well in urban centres – Helsinki, Helsinki’s suburbs in Uusimaa region, Tampere, Lahti and suburban Turku. Other KOK MEPs had more localized support: transport minister and MEP-elect Henna Virkkunen dominated around her hometown of Jyväskylä in central Finland while incumbent MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen was strong around Hämeenlinna.
KESK placed second, with a performance similar to 2009 but recording a 3.9% improvement on KESK’s disastrous result in the 2011 election. The Centrists have likely recovered rural voters who had abandoned them for the PS in 2011. In this election, KESK, which includes both a more liberal pro-European wing and a traditionally Eurosceptic and isolationist wing, conciliated both factions in the party with its leading candidates. Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs (known as an advocate of austerity policies) won 70,398 votes – coming in as the third most voted candidate in Finland. Paavo Väyrynen, a former cabinet minister and 2012 presidential candidate from the party’s Eurosceptic wing, won 69,360 votes. Väyrynen boosted KESK’s support considerably in his native Lapland, where he won the most votes of any candidate and where KESK’s support increased by 9.6% since 2009 and 11.8% since 2011 to 44%. KESK also gained 6.4% from 2011 in Oulu region. Incumbent MEP and former Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki was KESK’s third MEP, finding most of her support in and around her hometown of Lapua in Southern Ostrobothnia.
The Finns Party had, like in the 2012 municipal elections, a mixed result. With 13% of the vote, it is a distant third ahead of the SDP, and PS recorded the second strongest vote increase since 2009 of any party – a gain of 3.1%, and also a gain of a second seat in the EP. However, PS’ result is down 6.2% and over 337,000 votes lower than in the 2011 election, where PS won 19% of the vote. It is, in this sense, an unremarkable and underwhelming performance for the right-populist and Eurosceptic movement, which – unlike DF in Denmark – has not increased its support from the last election. At the same time, however, it still shows that PS has solidified itself as a major party in a system which now has four, instead of three, parties in competition for power. At the national level, PS is still polling strongly, generally in the 17-18% range. Its support has not collapsed as some had predicted in 2011. In the EP election, PS’ underperformance likely owes to lower turnout (some anti-EU protest voters may not have showed up, feeling disconnected from and not concerned by the distant issue) but also the lack of Timo Soini, who is a major boost for PS. PS’ top two candidates and MEPs-elect – Jussi Hallo-aho, a PS MP famous for his anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism positions; and Soini’s successor as MEP, Sampo Terho – lacked Soini’s profile, although the fairly prominent and controversial Hallo-aho did draw some strong support throughout Finland, likely with anti-immigration voters. He won over 80,700 votes nationally – the second most voted candidate. PS has been accepted into the more moderate ECR group, ditching UKIP’s EFD (like DF).
The main loser was the SDP, whose support fell by over 5% from 2009 and 6.8% from 2011 (both of which were already record-setting lows). It lost over 348,700 votes since the 2011 election. Although it saved its two MEPs, 12% of the vote remains an unmitigated disaster. Despite a tougher rhetoric to win back disoriented left-wingers and blue-collar males who have defected to PS, the SDP’s new leader Antti Rinne failed to make an impact and himself admitted that his party had taken a slap in the face. The SDP’s leadership contest likely hurt its campaigns: the SDP was deeply divided and its policies a complete mess, because Rinne attacked the fundamentals of the government which the SDP has been a part of since 2011. Worryingly for the party, the SDP’s support with young voters – already a weak demographic for a party with an aging electorate – and middle-class city dwellers has declined, shrinking the SDP to an increasingly old electorate. And with poor results being confirmed in successive elections of all types, this bad result is not a deviation – it’s part of a wider trend, which has seen the SDP’s support decline significantly in recent years. So far, Antti Rinne hasn’t been able to correct that. VAS, on the other hand, had a good election: with 9.3% of the vote, it regained a seat which it had lost in 2009, when the VAS vote declined to 5.9% (and had no alliance with another party to help it out). The party improved its support by 3.4% since 2009 (the most of any party) and by 1.2% from the 2011 election. VAS ‘ presence in government surprisingly turned out fairly well until the party left the government, which allowed it to gain even more support. Unlike the SDP, VAS has successfully communicated its message and renewed itself; distancing itself from its roots in Finland’s powerful pro-Moscow communist party of the Cold War years. It has renewed its electorate somewhat, with a young and urban electorate (students, low-wage employees, social workers) adding to a traditional base of working-class unionized workers. Unlike the SDP, which has failed to respond to change effectively. In this election, VAS overtook the SDP in Helsinki (12% vs 11.7%) and Turku (15.6% vs. 13%).
The Greens lost one seat and over 3% from 2009, which had been an exceptionally good year for the Greens (who took over 12% and gained a seat). The Greens’ result, however, is up 2% on what they polled in 2011, a disappointing year for the party. The SFP, the liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish minority (about 5% of the population), saved its single MEP. During the campaign, SFP was said to be at risk of losing its seat, which it had held since the first Finnish EP election in 1996. Instead, the SFP increased its support by 0.7% from 2009 (and over 2% from 2011). This is due to stronger turnout in Swedish municipalities in Ostrabothnia and the 90%-Swedish Åland archipelago; very likely motivated to save the SFP’s seat against the PS, which has strong anti-Swedish (against bilingualism) stances against which Finnish Swedes have mobilized. In the Åland archipelago, turnout increased from 48% to 57%, while the SFP won no less than 90.5% of the vote against 2.4% for the SDP.
The KDs lost their sole MEP, even if they ironically took their best result in an EP election. Incumbent KD MEP Sari Essayah won 61,264 votes – the fifth most voted candidate in Finland. However, in 2009, the KDs had salvaged their seat thanks to an electoral alliance with PS. This year, the small socially conservative party ran without an alliance with another party, and thus lost its seat.
YLE has a map showing the preferential votes for the candidates by municipality, while their results interface allows you to drill down to the municipal level for some party results (and also offers maps of party support and turnout). The patterns were nothing unusual. KESK won the vast majority of the land area, by virtue of the party’s solid base in the bulk of sparsely populated rural municipalities and small towns in Finland. KESK won its best results in the Finnish municipalities in rural Ostrobothnia (Oulu and Vaasa constituencies) – a religious and conservative rural region. However, KOK won nearly every major city in Finland except the northern city of Oulu (which went to KESK): Helsinki (28%), Espoo (a wealthy suburb of Helsinki, with 39.5% for KOK), Vantaa (a less affluent Helsinki suburb, 27%), Turku (26%), Tampere (27%), Jyväskylä (20.7%), Lahti (29%) and even topped the poll in some traditionally left-leaning industrial towns such as Pori, Rauma, Lapeenranta and Hämeenlinna. The largest city which the SDP won is Imatra, a mill town of some 28,000 people. It won 20.9% in Rauma, a major harbour and industrial city; but in Pori, a neighboring industrial city of over 83,000 people, the SDP placed third with 17.3% (PS won 18.7%, it had won the city in 2011). The SDP was also third in Kotka, a major harbour for the lumber industry (PS won 21%, in second behind KOK; the SDP won there in 2011); fourth in the railway town of Kouvola (14.3%, PS won 20% but was nearly 8% lower than in 2011); and third in Lapeenranta (with 15%, down over 10 points from 2011), an old mill town. In Joensuu, an old lumber town in Northern Karelia which is now a college town, the SDP placed second (behind KESK) with 19.3%, ahead of the Greens whose fell fell by 9 points to 15%. Overall, the SDP won 19%, its best result, in Northern Karelia. The Greens did very well (but less so than in 2009) in college towns and major cities: Helsinki on top with 19.8%, but also Tampere (16%) and Joensuu (15.4%). VAS did well in the cities, college towns too but also in industrial towns (13.7% in Pori) and northern Finland. The north of the country has a tradition of ‘backwoods communism’, with strong communist (now VAS) support from loggers and the rural working-classes. VAS placed second in Lapland and Oulu. In this election, VAS did very well around Suomussalmi (50.7%) and Kajaani (41%) in the northeastern region of Kainuu – this is a personal vote for VAS’ new MEP, Merja Kyllönen, a former transportation minister, MP and former municipal councillor from Suomussalmi. She dominated the field of candidates in the region.
Later: Germany, Greece, Hungary and Italy
Legislative elections were held in the Czech Republic on October 25-26, 2013. All 200 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecká sněmovna), the lower house of the Czech Parliament (Parlamentu České republiky), were up for reelection. All members are elected to serve four-year terms by closed party-list proportional representation (d’Hondt, 5% national threshold for single parties, higher for coalitions) in fourteen multi-member constituencies corresponding to the Czech Republic’s 14 administrative regions (including Prague).
The Chamber of Deputies is, by far, the most powerful house in the country’s bicameral legislature. The Senate (Senát), which is composed of 81 senators elected to six-year terms (single-member constituencies, two round system), renewed by thirds every other year, is a toothless body. It can only delay the passage of legislation, because the lower house can override any veto with an absolute majority (101 deputies). As such, control of the Senate is rather irrelevant; the main opposition party has had an absolute majority on its own since 2010.
The Czech paradox: Parliamentary or semi-presidential?
The Czech Republic is, in theory, a parliamentary republic with the President confined to a more symbolic, less political role – while still holding some significant constitutional powers in his own right. For example, the President can veto legislation (which can be overriden with an absolute majority of the lower house), appoint judges, dissolve the Chamber of Deputies under certain conditions and appoint the Prime Minister; on other matters, the President may only exercise his authority with the consent of the Prime Minister.
However, in practice, the President is a rather powerful figure in Czech politics. Governments have tended to be weak or led by weaker men, while the presidency has attracted three powerful figures who all managed to assume a more prominent role in daily politics than the constitution would let us suppose. The first President, Václav Havel (1993-2003) commanded a good deal of moral authority because of his prestige as a leading dissident under communist rule. His successor, Václav Klaus (2003-2013), was outspoken and controversial, famous for his Eurosceptic views and skepticism of man-made climate change. Since a constitutional reform in 2012, the Czech President, previously elected by a convoluted process by both houses of Parliament, is now elected directly by the people. The direct election of the President confers greater legitimacy and authority to the presidency, given that the President may now claim to hold his mandate and legitimacy directly from voters.
Former Social Democratic Prime Minister Miloš Zeman, a brash and sharp-elbowed old politico, won the first direct presidential election in January 2013. Zeman, reputed to be something of an autocrat who dislikes parliamentary democracy, clearly envisions a much stronger presidency which directly intervenes in the working of the parliamentary government. As such, Zeman has been at the heart of the political crisis which led to the early dissolution of Parliament.
Background: Czech political history since 1990
Running somewhat counter to the recent trends seen in other ex-Eastern Bloc states (Poland, Bulgaria, some Baltic states, Hungary etc) pointing towards greater political and partisan stability, the Czech Republic’s political system has grown more unstable in the past few years.
The broad based pro-democracy Civic Forum, which had led the Czech Republic towards liberal democracy, split up as soon as it had lost its raison-d’être. The conservative and free market wing of the movement, led by Václav Klaus, created the Civic Democratic Party (Občanská demokratická strana, ODS), which became – by the 1992 elections – the leading right-wing party in the country (and the largest party altogether). Václav Klaus served as Prime Minister between 1992 and 1998, governing in coalition with smaller centre-right parties. Similar to other right-wing governments in former communist states across the region, Klaus’ government focused on structural reforms, including privatization of state enterprises, and the development of strong ties with western Europe and the United States. His government fell due to financial scandals and an economic downturn, and the ODS lost the 1998 and 2002 elections to the Social Democrats.
The Czech Social Democratic Party (Česká strana sociálně demokratická, ČSSD), which re-emerged following the fall of communism, was originally founded within the Austrian socialist party in 1878 and became an independent party in 1893. The ČSSD was a member of the five-party coalition which governed Czechoslovakia during the First Republic. Its cooperation with bourgeois parties led to a painful split in 1921 and the creation of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, who won over 10% in the 1925, 1929 and 1935 elections (placing ahead of the ČSSD in 1925). It was reborn after the fall of communism and established itself as the main centre-left force in 1996 (26.4%, vs. 29.6% for the ODS). Unlike most social democratic parties in Eastern Europe, the Czech Social Democrats are not descended from the ruling communist party from the Cold War years.
The ČSSD, led by Miloš Zeman, won the 1998 elections. Lacking an absolute majority or potential coalition partners, Miloš Zeman formed a minority government and signed an “Opposition Agreement” (opoziční smlouva) with ODS leader Václav Klaus. The ODS recognized Zeman’s right to form a government and pledged not to introduce confidence motions against the government (effectively giving it confidence and supply); in return, the government would consult the ODS on major policy initiatives and ODS politicians would be named to public offices – Klaus became speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. The opposition agreement shocked voters after a bitter campaign between both major parties, and soon met organized opposition from other parties, intellectuals and students. Both parties agreed to change the electoral law to make it more favourable to larger parties and a close ally of Klaus, Jiří Hodač, was named to head the public broadcaster, ČT. Employees of the TV network, supported by President Havel and a movement of intellectuals and students, protested against the nomination.
The opposition agreement marked an important moment in Czech political culture: it is often identified as the date when the political elite, from the ODS and ČSSD, agreed to share the spoils, betraying the voters, and when high-level corruption and collusion between big business and politicians was firmly entrenched in the political system. Corruption is an endemic issue in Czech politics, one which every successive government has struggled to deal with.
Zeman’s government laid the groundwork for the Czech Republic’s accession to the EU and NATO (2004 and 1999 respectively), but otherwise his tenure was largely unremarkable and the opposition agreement had a deleterious effect on the ČSSD in midterm senatorial and regional elections in 2000. In the 2002 elections, both the ODS and ČSSD saw their share of the vote fall somewhat, benefiting the Communists and a centrist coalition. This time, the ČSSD formed a coalition with two centrist/centre-right parties. Zeman was replaced as Prime Minister by Vladimír Špidla, whose two-year tenure was marked by coalition dissensions and attempts to reduce the country’s growing public debt. The ČSSD was crushed in the 2004 European elections, winning only single digits, and Špidla resigned.
His successor, Stanislav Gross, remained in office for less than a year before he was forced to resign following a financial scandal. He was replaced by Jiří Paroubek, who led the party into the June 2006 elections. From the lows of 2004-2005, Paroubek, helped by strong economic growth, managed to significantly improve the ČSSD’s support. The 2006 campaign was extremely acrimonious and dirty; Paroubek ran a scare campaign warning of the destruction of social services and a threat to democracy equivalent to February 1948 (the Communist coup) if the ODS won, while ODS leader Mirek Topolánek attacked the ČSSD on corruption scandals and refused to shake his opponent’s hands in the debate, saying he did not respect it. It even came to blows – an ODS adviser to the President, Miroslav Macek, slapped the ČSSD health minister, David Rath in the face because Rath had said that Macek had married his wife for the money.
In this polarized context, both the ODS and ČSSD performed well in the 2006 election – both parties increased their vote share from 2002, the ODS gaining some 11 points and winning 35.4%, the ČSSD gaining about 2 points and winning 32.3%. The net result was deadlock: the ODS and its potential allies – the centre-right and the Greens – held exactly 100 seats, the ČSSD and the Communists held the other 100 seats. The ČSSD would not work with the Communists, so ODS leader Mirek Topolánek was the favourite to become Prime Minister, but the process lasted over six months, until January 2007. He attempted to recreate an ‘opposition agreement’ with Paroubek but failed to do so. He was appointed to form a government in September 2006, and formed a minority government composed of the ODS and independents. In October, however, the Chamber refused confidence, 99 votes to 96. In January 2007, Klaus reluctantly agreed to appoint Topolánek as Prime Minister, this time with a coalition made up of the ODS, the centre-right (KDU-ČSL) and the Greens. Topolánek was able to receive the confidence of the Chamber, with two rogue ČSSD members leaving the Chamber and another abstaining, allowing Topolánek to win 100-97, with one abstention.
Topolánek’s main achievement during his term in office was a major fiscal reform. His government, as the ODS had promised in the campaign, scrapped the progressive income tax (12% to 32% rates) and introduced a 15% flat tax on personal incomes. This major public finance reform also gradually reduced the corporate tax rate from 24% to 19%, increased personal tax credits, increased the reduced rate of VAT from 5% to 9%, introduced environmental taxation, reduced social security benefits and introduced user fees in healthcare. Topolánek was also a strong supporter of the US missile defense system, and was fairly critical of the EU.
His government fell on a confidence vote in March 2009, with two ODS rebels and two Green dissidents joining the left-wing parties in voting against Topolánek’s cabinet, which fell 101 votes to 96. This opened a political crisis, compounded by the fact the the country was presiding the EU for six months. There was talk of snap elections in the fall of 2009, but the ODS and ČSSD, along with the Greens and KDU-ČSL, agreed to a transitional cabinet led by the head of the statistical office, Jan Fischer. Fischer’s technocratic cabinet included ministers nominated by the two major parties and the Greens.
Elections were finally held in May 2010 proved disastrous for both the ODS and ČSSD. The ODS’ campaign was severely disturbed when its top candidate, Topolánek, was forced to resign in April 2010 after an interview he gave to a gay magazine in which he said that gays and Jews lacked moral character (but the Jews more so), accused the churches of brainwashing people and berated ČSSD voters. This was not the first controversy for Topolánek, a fairly brash character: in the spring of 2009, photos showing up sunbathing naked at Silvio Berlusconi’s Sardinian villa were seized and in the summer of 2009 he held shady meetings with Czech lobbyists and industrialists in Tuscany. Topolánek was replaced by Petr Nečas, the vice-chairman of the ODS who had served as deputy Prime Minister in Topolánek’s governments. The opposition ČSSD (still led by Paroubek), had performed very well in the 2008 regional and senatorial elections, but they ran a terrible campaign. Paroubek boycotted two newspapers and three magazines which he accused of inciting hatred by its ties to right-wing parties. The right’s campaign on fiscal responsibility and reducing indebtedness struck a chord, as did fears that the country was “the next Greece”.
The ČSSD and ODS saw their support collapse, winning 22.1% and 20.2% respectively. The main winners this time were new parties, which ate into the ODS (and ČSSD)’s support. TOP 09 and Public Affairs (VV), two new centre-right parties, won 16.7% and 10.9% respectively. Commanding a right-wing majority, Petr Nečas was able to form a cabinet rather quickly, with the support of TOP 09 and VV. On strict party lines, he won confidence with 118 votes to 82.
The other forces
Until 2010, the other relevant parties included the Communists and a plethora of parties on the centre-right.
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy, KSČM) is another Czech oddity in the former Eastern Bloc. No non-Soviet former Eastern Bloc state has retained a strong, electorally viable unreconstructed communist parties. In other countries, the majority of the former communist party went on to form the basis of contemporary centre-left parties and one-time communist party members joined parties all across the board. This has also been the case in the Czech Republic: a number of older politicians on both the left and right began their careers in the KSČ or its ‘allied parties’. The KSČ split in 1989, with the Czech branch being refounded in March 1990 as the KSČM (the Slovak Communist Party effectively died out). Czech Communists, broadly conservative, aimed at perpetuating the traditional party identity rather than redefining themselves as some kind of new, plural left.
The KSČM remains an ‘unreconstructed’ communist party which has not moved towards democratic socialism or eurocommunism. In the first years, anti-revionists managed to overwhelm moderates/’revisionists’ who favoured an evolution to democratic socialism. The new leadership was anti-revisionist, but not completely Stalinist – they did criticize the “inadequacies” of the pre-1989 regime, and did not advocate for a return to the pre-1989 regime (unlike a small handful of hardliners). Yet, for most of the 1990s, the KSČM was very much a pariah, systematically excluded from decision-making and political activities by the other parties.
The KSČM, much to the chagrin of the other parties, did not die out with the fall of communism. Instead, it has remained a strong force, with the most stable electorate of any Czech party. Since 1990, its supports has floated between 10% and 20%; it has never won less than 10% of the vote in a parliamentary election and usually wins between 11% and 14% of the vote, with a peak at 18.5% in 2002. In the 2012 regional elections, the KSČM placed second with 20.3% and topped the poll in two regions.
The ČSSD, in the 1995 Bohumíně resolution, stated that it would not cooperate with ‘extremist’ parties, including the KSČM. Since then, the ČSSD’s attitude towards the KSČM has shifted. Presidents Václav Havel and Václav Klaus both refused to appoint any Prime Minister and government which would be supported by the Communists; for example in 2004, Klaus demanded that Stanislav Gross submit a list of 101 non-Communist MPs who would back his government before appointing him.
In 2005, KSČM leader Miroslav Grebeníček was replaced by Vojtěch Filip, the party’s current leader. Filip has continued to adhere by the traditional party line, but his election was seen as an attempt to sanitize the party’s image and a greater openness to working with the ČSSD. Successive ČSSD leaders have refused to form a national governing coalition with the KSČM, but the party is more willing to accept the potential of forming a minority government with Communist support. Former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek (2005-2006), repeatedly stated that he would not form a coalition with the Communists but his government was able to pass laws with Communist support. At the regional level, the ČSSD rules in coalition with the KSČM in 10 out of 13 regions; the KSČM even holds a regional presidency since 2012.
Although the ‘cordon sanitaire’ of sorts which isolated the KSČM is slowly being broken, the party remains very controversial. Although there is, in practice, nothing very revolutionary about a party whose average members’ age is 70, they retain a tendency to say fairly inconvenient things – nostalgia for “the good old days” (pre-1989) or sending condolences to North Korea on Kim Jong-Il’s death. Their youth organization was banned between 2006 and 2010 for advocating a violent revolution, and there have been repeated calls to ban the KSČM. Public opinion remains, in majority, hostile towards the party and there is a strong anti-communist movement.
In between the ODS and the ČSSD, a number of political parties have tried to form some kind of centrist/centre-right alternative to the two major parties and play the role of kingmakers.
The most successful of such parties, historically, has been the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People’s Party (Křesťanská a demokratická unie – Československá strana lidová, KDU-ČSL), which is a continuation of the ČSL, a clerical Catholic party which existed during the interwar years. In that period, the party, as the representative of the predominantly Moravian ‘clerical Catholic’ camp in Czechoslovak politics, was a member of almost every government coalition. It was allowed to operate after World War II, but after 1948 the Communists turned the ČSL into a puppet party, member of their ‘National Front'; but many members opposed communist rule. With two exceptions, the KDU-ČSL’s support since 1990 has ranged between 6% and 8%, providing them with a small but important caucus in Parliament. Between 1992 and 1997, the party supported ODS Prime Minister Václav Klaus.
Following the opposition agreement in 1998, the KDU-ČSL teamed up with three other parties, all of them on the centre-right, to form an anti-opposition agreement coalition, styled the Čtyřkoalice (Quad or Coalition of Four). The Čtyřkoalice also included the Civic Democratic Assembly (ODA), which left in 2002, and the liberal Freedom Union (ODS dissidents)/Democratic Union – who merged in 2001. The Čtyřkoalice enjoyed brief success; they won the 2000 senatorial elections (16/27 seats; giving them a majority of seats overall!) and placed second in the 2000 regional elections with 22.9%. But the ODA feuded with other parties and eventually disappeared, and the coalition itself dissolved. In the 2002 legislative elections, the centrist coalition of the KDU-ČSL and the US-DEU (Freedom Union-Democratic Union) won 14.2% of the vote.
The KDU-ČSL and US-DEU governed in coalition with the ČSSD until 2005, but the relation was uneasy. The KDU-ČSL forced Stanislav Gross to resign after the financial scandal, and Paroubek often turned to the Communists for parliamentary backing for his laws. Indeed, in 2003, Miroslav Kalousek, on the right of the party, became leader of the KDU-ČSL and did not hide his preference for participation in a right-wing coalition. Which is what they did after the 2006 election – the KDU-ČSL joined Topolánek’s ill-fated cabinet. The experience badly hurt the KDU-ČSL: Kalousek stepped down as party leader in 2006, his successor was forced to step down in 2009 following a number of scandals and the party’s leftward shift under Cyril Svoboda after 2009 was controversial.
In June 2009, Kalousek left the party and founded TOP 09 (Tradice, Odpovědnost, Prosperita 09), which attracted dissidents from the KDU-ČSL and ODS. Because Kalousek is a fairly unpopular and slimy politician implicated in numerous scandals, TOP 09 has made everybody believe that it is actually led by Karel Schwarzenberg, a colourful and popular prince, who had been elected to the Senate in 2004 and was nominated by the Greens as foreign minister in Topolánek’s second cabinet (2007-2009). TOP 09, boosted by Schwarzenberg and alliances with local groupings, won 16.7% in the 2010 election and became the second largest member of Petr Nečas’ cabinet, with Schwarzenberg returning as foreign minister and Kalousek serving as finance minister. Ideologically, TOP 09 is pro-European – unlike the ODS – but shares the ODS’ very right-wing views on economic and fiscal questions. TOP 09 seeks to reduce the size of government, cuts regulations, balance the budget and promote private enterprise.
Karel Schwarzenberg remains the party’s most popular public figure. He ran in the 2013 presidential election, placing second and losing the runoff to Zeman with 45.2% of the vote.
In the meantime, the KDU-ČSL performed disastrously in the 2010 election, winning 4.4% and losing all seats. The party, however, regrouped and returned to its normal levels of support in 2010 and 2012.
The 2010 election also saw the rise of Public Affairs (Věci veřejné, VV), an anti-corruption platform which emerged, beginning in 2001, from Prague local politics. In 2009, VV recruited popular investigative journalist Radek John as its leader, and his popularity – combined with growing anti-establishment sentiments and dissatisfaction with the political system – allowed VV to come out from nowhere to win about 11% of the vote in the 2010 election. At the time, little was known about what VV was, who it was and what it stood for.
2010-2013: the destruction of the party system
Petr Nečas’ government agenda included fiscal responsibility, the fight against corruption and rule of law. It basically failed on all three counts, especially the last two.
The government, to reduce the deficit and public debt, quickly introduced very unpopular austerity policies which included spending cuts, cutting public investments and tax increases.
The government adopted a major overdue pension reform in late 2012, which came into force in January 2013, which created a three-pillar system in which individuals may redirect 3% of their contribution, which in the past went into the state fund, into private pension funds. Opting to do so would increase an employee’s wage deductions by 2%, from 6.5% to 8.5%, and participants would not be able to change their minds later. The existing third pillar, which were voluntary privately-managed (with state contribution) supplementary schemes, will continue to exist but no longer accept participants. In parallel, a new type of third pillar voluntary supplementary fund with state contribution will be created. It was a tough reform to pass, meeting opposition from the left but also hostility from President Klaus.
The government faced a backbench revolt in November 2012 from its intentions to increase the VAT by 1%, increasing the base rate from 20% to 21% and the reduced rate from 14% to 15%. The government also modified the flat tax by adding a 22% tax rate on high incomes. The effect of the government’s austerity policies has been negative for the economy. While the country’s debt is under control and the deficit is hovering over or under the EU’s 3% limit (3.3% in 2011, 4.4% in 2012, 2.9% in 2013; down from 5.8% in 2009); austerity has decreased public demand and led to a double-dip recession: the GDP shrunk by 4.7% in 2009, and while it grew by +1.9% in 2011, the country was in recession in 2012 (-1.3%) and will likely be in recession again in 2013 (-0.4%).
The government was forced to backtrack on a controversial reform of post-secondary education in 2012. Originally, the government had sought to introduce tuition fees (up to 20,000 CZK), reduce student power in university decision-making and strengthen private sector stakeholders in governance of post-secondary institutions. There were student protests in 2011, and in June 2012 a new higher education minister, Petr Fiala, shelved the plans to engage in dialogue.
The government also dealt with the contentious issue of church restitution – compensating churches for the loss of lands and real property seized by the communist regime and financial compensations. Under the law passed in November 2012, the state will return land, real estate and legal property to churches, religious communities and legal persons – valued at 75 billion CZK. Privately-owned land or state-owned land used for military purposes or as national parks will not be returned. In addition, churches will receive a total of 59 billion CZK in financial compensation, 47.2 billion CZK of which will go to the Catholic Church. The bill was criticized by the opposition and VV, and faced constitutional challenges.
Besides presenting itself as a government of fiscal responsibility, the incoming government also promised to crack down on corruption. Nečas was originally known as ‘Mr. Clean’, and VV leader Radek John was named Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the fight against corruption.
Little was known of VV when it performed well in the 2010 elections, but it soon turned out that the whole ‘anti-corruption’ image was a sham and that the party reeked of corruption. The party – and the government – faced its first crisis in April 2011, when a number of VV MPs admitted, after the magazine Respekt had leaked details, that they had received substantial bribes from VV’s unofficial leader and transport minister Vit Bárta, in exchange for their loyalty and silence. Bárta resigned from cabinet a few days later and Nečas shuffled his cabinet, with Radek John stepping down as interior minister to focus solely on the ‘anti-corruption’ portfolio. In May, John resigned from cabinet, citing disagreements with Nečas.
VV’s troubles did not end there. In the spring of 2011, again, questions were raised about the source of the party’s financing – with suspicions of money laundering, illegal money and proceeds from the sale of shares. Again in April 2011, the newspaper Mladá fronta DNES published documents from 2008 in which Vit Bárta, who was then the owner of a shady security comapny (ABL), detailed his plans to use VV as a front to advance the economic interests of the company – basically put, a political party as part of a broader for-profit business plan. Other VV leaders were also tied to private businesses.
Later in 2011, education minister Josef Dobeš (VV) appointed controversial political activist Ladislav Bátora, suspected of ties to anti-Semitic and neo-fascist organizations, to a senior position in the ministry of education. The appointment met strong opposition from academics, but also disturbed members of the ODS and TOP 09. Karel Schwarzenberg and Bátora got into an heated shouting match, which created another crisis in cabinet. Bátora was forced to resign in October 2011.
In the fall of 2011, two cabinet ministers were forced to resign as a result of corruption scandals. The Minister of Industry and Trade, Martin Kocourek (ODS), resigned in November 2011 after he was unable to explain the origin of 16 million CZK in his mother’s bank account. In December 2011, the Minister of Culture, Jiří Besser (STAN/TOP 09) resigned after failing to declare that he owned an apartment in Florida and that a close associate had been sentenced for corruption.
In April 2012, Vit Bárta was sentenced by a Prague district court to 18 months imprisonment for bribery (later overturned on appeal). Despite his sentencing, however, Bárta announced that he would remain in Parliament and continue his political career. This led to an internal crisis in VV, with Karolína Peake, the Deputy Prime Minister, left the party along with two other cabinet ministers and four other VV MPs. Peake founded a new party, LIDEM (LIDEM – liberální demokraté), which remained in the government. The Prime Minister asked for a vote of confidence at the end of the month, which he carried with a much reduced majority of 105 MPs against 93. In January 2013, LIDEM came close to leaving the coalition after Nečas fired Peake from her defense portfolio, but it soon abandoned those plans.
In June 2012, Nečas dismissed the Minister of Justice, Jiří Pospíšil (ODS). Many speculated that the real reason behind Pospíšil’s sacking was that he intended to appoint the tough anti-corruption lawyer Lenka Bradáčová as chief public prosecutor in Prague (she was later appointed anyways).
Other corruption scandals involving members of the governing parties also hurt the government’s image. In the October 2012 regional and senatorial elections, worn down by the economy and its terrible record on corruption, the ODS suffered monumental loses – winning only 12.3% of the vote in the regional elections and losing no less than 10 seats in the Senate.
All of these scandals, however, were little in comparison to the massive scandal which brought down the Prime Minister and the government, leading to a political crisis.
The political crisis
On June 13, 2013, police raided the government offices and arrested nine people, eight of whom were charged. Those arrested included Jana Nagyová, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and alleged mistress, the former and current heads of the Military Intelligence Service, three former ODS MPs and a former deputy minister. Nagyová was held on two separate counts.
In the first case, Nagyová is accussed of asking military intelligence to spy on three civilians, including Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ then-wife Radka Nečasová, for ‘purely private’ reasons. Nagyová was, according to prosecutors, hoping to convince Nečas to divorce his wife, whom she suspected of having an affair.
In the second case, she is accussed of bribing three former ODS MPs (Ivan Fuksa, Marek Šnajdr and Petr Tluchoř) with lucrative posts in public offices in exchange for their resignation (and replacement by loyal foot soldiers) to save the government in the confidence vote on the VAT hike last fall. The government managed to survive the vote with the resignation of these three MPs (two of the other six backbench rebels backed down, and one quit the party). Petr Nečas was involved in the deal-making.
The whole police op and cases are quite bizarre. Many expressed their surprise at the organization of the police raid, notably asking why the authorities had finally cracked down on corruption which has been around for decades. On the second case, political horse-trading of this kind is hardly unheard of in the Czech Republic (and elsewhere), and Nečas originally defended himself by saying that it was just the usual political deal-making.
The raid was part of a broader investigation which aimed to pin down powerful businessmen and lobbyists suspected of scheming to gain control of state-owned firms. Police seized millions of dollars in cash and ten kgs of gold during the raid.
Public tolerance for corruption is increasingly low, and politicians are feeling voters’ pressures. Nečas’ governments did take a few baby steps towards fixing some of the most egregerious issues in the political system, notably removing life-long immunity from criminal prosecution for all MPs, who nevertheless enjoy immunity while in office.
Petr Nečas originally indicated that he would try to weather the scandal and remain in office, but by June 16, he was forced to announce his resignation. Since then, Nečas married Nagyová in September – perhaps because the law prevents courts from forcing spouses to testify against one another.
In stepped President Miloš Zeman. The news of Nečas’ resignation was welcomed by the president, who had even promised his voters that he would topple Nečas’ government. With Nečas out of the picture, the power of appointing a new Prime Minister fell into the President’s hands. The President has no constitutional obligation to appoint a Prime Minister on the basis of parties or parliament’s recommendation until two of his nominees have been rejected by Parliament. However, in practice, past Presidents have followed the advice of party leaders in choosing Prime Ministers.
The ODS, TOP 09 and LIDEM recommended that Zeman appoint the ODS president of the Chamber of Deputies, Miroslava Němcová. Němcová had the backing of the three former coalition partners and the ODS claimed that it had a list of 101 MPs who would support her in a vote of confidence. The opposition ČSSD, KSČM and VV wanted to dissolve Parliament and hold snap elections. Zeman had his own ideas.
On June 25, Zeman appointed Jiří Rusnok, an economist who had served as a finance minister when Zeman was Prime Minister and who, like Zeman, had quit the ČSSD. Rusnok’s cabinet consisted of independents and close allies of the President. Rusnok/Zeman’s pick for the finance ministry was none other than Jan Fischer, who had run (and lost) in the presidential election earlier this year and had endorsed Zeman in the runoff at the last minute. Fischer had been unable to repay his campaign expenditures, until he received 5.3 million CZK from businessmen before his nomination.
It was clear fairly early that Rusnok was unlikely to receive the support of the Chamber, but it was all part of an ingenious plan by Zeman to increase his political influence. After his nominee is rejected by the Chamber, the President has the appoint a second candidate; but he is under no obligation to do so within a set timeframe. In the meantime, the outgoing cabinet continues to govern on a day-to-day basis as a caretaker government. For example, Zeman was able to use his new presidential cabinet to clear diplomatic appointments which had been blocked by Schwarzenberg beforehand. He named Livia Klausová, the wife of former President Klaus (who endorsed Zeman), as ambassador to Slovakia and Vladimír Remek, Czechoslovakia’s only astronaut and KSČM MEP as ambassador to Russia. Rusnok’s government also dismissed 60 senior bureaucrats from office.
Zeman’s move infuriated the right-wing parties, who were able to defeat Rusnok’s government in the Chamber on August 7. Rusnok’s government received the support of 93 MPs (ČSSD, KSČM, VV), while 100 voted against it (ODS, TOP 09, LIDEM). On August 20, 140 MPs (ČSSD, KSČM, TOP 09, VV) voted in favour of dissolving the Chamber of Deputies, more than the three-fifths majority required by the constitution to dissolve the lower house. The ODS did not participate in the vote. Zeman was unfavourable to the organization of snap elections, preferring to hold them alongside next year’s European elections in May 2014.
Parties and issues: the old timers
The ČSSD led the polls – often by huge margins – for basically the duration of the legislature’s term, and was the runaway favourite to win the elections; and probably with a strong result – above its 2010 result – and in a strong position to form a minority government with the KSČM’s support.
The past three years, however, have not been without hitches for the ČSSD. Former Prime Minister and ČSSD leader Jiří Paroubek resigned following the 2010 election but in November 2011 he left the party and created his own party, LEV 21-National Socialists (LEV 21 – Národní socialisté). The name ‘national socialist’ in Czech politics refers to the nationalist socialist tradition of the First Republic, it has nothing to do with Nazism (but the use of the term never stops to amuse foreign observers!). The Czech national socialist movement was a patriotic and Czech nationalist splitoff from the socialist/labour movement, influenced by the local Hussite tradition. It was supported largely by intellectuals (Edvard Beneš), civil servants and the lower middle-class. Paroubek’s movement never gained steam, however, and LEV 21 did terribly in the 2012 elections.
Since 2010, the ČSSD has been led by Bohuslav Sobotka, who was finance minister between 2002 and 2006.
In May 2012, the ČSSD faced a far more serious problem when David Rath, a former health minister (who got slapped) and then-governor of Central Bohemia, was arrested for accepting bribes and taking kickbacks. The ČSSD’ support in polls collapsed and the party won only a Pyrrhic victory in the 2012 elections, winning 23.6% – down 12.3% from the 2008 regional elections (a ČSSD landslide).
Like in 2010, the ČSSD’s platform was fairly left-wing. It promised to reinstate the progressive income tax, raise taxes on high incomes (top tax rate at 38%), increasing corporate taxes (from 19% to 21%; 30% for banks, energy companies and phone operators), a 40% increase in the minimum wage (from 8,500 CZK to 12,000 CZK [€480]), increasing social benefits (sick day benefits, benefits for second and third child), repealing the pension reform, guarantee access to healthcare for all, lower the prices paid for prescription drugs and improve education. It also pledged to renegotiate the church restitution agreement, to reduce the amount paid.
That platform, however, was overshadowed by a very public civil war raging inside the party, a conflict sowed by Zeman. Party leader Bohuslav Sobotka, 2013 presidential candidate Jiří Dienstbier Jr and Lubomír Zaorálek are from the party’s liberal wing (supportive of environmental protection, civil liberties), which is also the anti-Zeman wing. The ČSSD’s deputy leader, Michal Hašek (who is also governor of South Moravia) or former labour minister Zdeněk Škromach represent a conservative and pro-Zeman wing. Sobotka has faced strong internal opposition, and he is backed by only a thin majority of his party – at the party congress in March, Sobotka was reelected with only 85 out of 151 votes (56%). During the campaign, some regional delegates unsuccessfully tried to topple Sobotka. In early September, some ČSSD members – including the mayor of Ostrava, the third largest city, protested their exclusion from the list of candidates.
The ODS entered the campaign in an even worse shape: the party is facing a huge internal crisis and popular support for the party is at an all-time low. The ODS’ 12.3% in the 2012 regional elections was not, as I thought back then, the bottom for them: after Nečas’ resignation, the party’s support collapsed below 10%. The ODS was discredited in voters eyes because of the poor economic record, the corruption scandal, the clientelism within the party and internal turmoil. Some members wanted former President Václav Klaus to return, while some of Klaus’ supporters founded a party in the hope of attracting him as their leader (he did not run). With Nečas facing trial, the ODS is now led by interim leader Martin Kuba and vice-chair Miroslava Němcová.
TOP 09’s support declined consistently between 2010 and 2012, and it won only 6.6% in the 2012 regional elections. However, the party received a major boost in the polls with Schwarzenberg’s presidential candidacy (and his strong first round result), briefly throwing them back up over 15%. TOP 09 also benefited from the ODS’ collapse to take leadership of the right (surpassed the ODS in polls). The party ran a strongly anti-Zeman campaign, arguing that they were the only party who defended the parliamentary system and would stand up to Zeman and the threat of authoritarianism. Kalousek argued that Zeman wants to establish an autocratic regime. On other issues, TOP 09’s platform was pro-European – it wants Prague to ratify the European Fiscal Compact, which the Czech Republic did not ratify in 2012. The party also wants to limit the budget deficit to 0.5% of GDP.
As always, Schwarzenberg was the public leader and mascot of TOP 09 in this campaign. TOP 09 has been trying to promote him with young voters, beginning with the “punk Karel” image during the presidential campaign, and now with other pretty shameless bids to build up up their mascot’s image with younger voters.
The KSČM has been performing well in polls since 2011, polling in the 15-20% range. As noted above, the Communists placed second overall in the October 2012 regional elections, with over 20% of the vote, and the KSČM formed regional governing coalitions with the ČSSD in 10 of 13 regions. While the party remains committed, on paper, to the creation of a socialist state, the party’s platform was nothing too crazy: anti-corruption, quality education, job creation, a 14,000 CZK minimum wage, a gradual return to pre-2007 VAT rates (19%/5%), a progressive income and corporate tax, a referendum on church restitution, a minimum pension, public health insurance and sustainable development. Its more contentious policies remain on foreign policy: the Communists want to withdraw from NATO and mention abolishing NATO as a long-term goal; they are also anti-EU.
As a result of their exclusion from governance, the KSČM has not been in power and as a result it hasn’t been involved in any major corruption scandals. As such, the KSČM can claim, with some credibility, to be a ‘clean hands’ party and benefits from the governing parties’ involvement in corruption scandals.
The KDU-ČSL, which lost all its seats in 2010, performed slightly better in elections in 2010 and 2012. The party’s leader is Pavel Bělobrádek, a fairly young guy who has never served in Parliament in the past. Its platform mostly consisted of pablum such as strengthening the economy, job creation, increasing child benefits, fiscal responsibility, ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption and opposing the privatization of healthcare.
The Party of Civic Rights-Zemanovci (Strana Práv Občanů – Zemanovci, SPOZ) is President Zeman’s party, which he founded when he left the ČSSD in 2009. SPOZ won 4.3% of the votes in 2010, coming very close to winning seats in Palriament. It has basically functioned as personal vehicle for Zeman, although the party’s support is much lower than Zeman’s personal support as the presidential election revealed. Zeman, ironically, made a pledge not to interfere in party politics when he was elected earlier this year, but Zeman still controls the party although he naturally didn’t run in this election.
Three ministers from Rusnok’s cabinet ran for the SPOZ, as did the controversial lobbyist and Zeman’s close associate Miroslav Šlouf.
Of lesser relevance is the Green Party (Strana zelených, SZ), founded in 1989 and which enjoyed brief electoral success in 2006 when it won 6 seats. The Czech Greens have tended to be more liberal and centrist/centre-right than most other European green parties: while their positions on environmental issues are seen as left-wing in the country, they have more right-wing positions on other issues (reducing the tax burden and labour costs, deregulation of rents, user fees in healthcare). After all, the Greens governed in coalition with the right between 2006 and 2009.
After their success in 2006, the Greens found themselves, once again, torn apart by internal conflict between their right and left wings. This led to their defeat in 2010, when the Greens won only 2.4% of the vote. Now led by Ondřej Liška, the Greens have shifted to the left with more anti-nuclear rhetoric or opposition to austerity. Former Green leader and former environment minister Martin Bursík left SZ earlier this year and founded his own green liberal party.
One of the factors which has changed the Czech party system in recent years has been the rapid emergence of new political parties, most of them vaguely populist and anti-corruption movements centered around a charismatic figure. VV filled that role in 2010. In this election, there were two new major populist movements: ANO 2011 and Úsvit.
ANO 2011 - ‘Ano’ meaning yes but also standing as an abbreviation for “Action of dissatisfied citizens” – was founded in 2012 by Andrej Babiš, a Czech businessman of Slovak origin who is also the second richest man in the Czech Republic.
Andrej Babiš, who was born in Bratislava (Slovakia) in 1954, worked for a foreign trade company owned by the Communist Party in Morocco during the communist regime before becoming the managing director of Agrofert in 1993. Agrofert is one of the largest companies in the Czech Republic (its assets are valued at 96.2 billion CZK, it employs some 28,000 employees and owns 1.6% of all agricultural land in the country. It is a major holding company which controls various agricultural , food processing and chemical companies. Babiš himself has a net worth of $2 billion.
Babiš claims he started his party when he “got angry” and bought newspaper ads to mobilize people against corruption and government mismanagement. Originally claiming he only wanted to sponsor ANO at first, he later took control of the party himself and promptly expelled rebels who later claimed Babiš was behaving like a dictator and running the party as his personal business project. Since then, Babiš has apparently been more careful at accepting members and candidates (promoting celebrities).
In June 2013, Agrofert bought MAFRA, the largest Czech media group which owns two popular daily newspapers (Mladá fronta DNES, Lidové noviny), three TV stations and two radio stations. Babiš’ expansion into the media led to concerns that he was becoming the “Czech Silvio Berlusconi”. There are some similarities with Silvio Berlusconi, particularly Berlusconi’s entrance into politics in 1993-1994. Like Berlusconi, Babiš has come into politics from a lucrative career in business and based his political appeal on a right-wing populist rejection of the established party system and its corrupt ways (although both are certainly corrupt themselves). Unlike Berlusconi, however, Babiš lacked a media empire and control of the airwaves.
Late in the campaign, two archived documents from the Slovak Institute of National Remembrance surfaced and alleged that Babiš was a collaborator and later an agent in the communist secret police (StB). On October 18, a Slovak newspaper published a document apparently corroborating Babiš’ secret police ties. Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09) called Babiš a communist informer, while Babiš has flatly denied all accussations saying he never signed an agent contract in Bratislava in 1982 and has sued the Slovak Institute of National Remembrance. In any case, what is certain is that Babiš was a member of the KSČ before 1989 – membership in the party was necessary to be part of the management of a state-owned company
Not much is known about ANO’s stances on the issues. It is anti-corruption, anti-establishment and most of its campaign has either been based on rejection of politicians or the idea that the Czech Republic should be run like a business. As such, it is a fairly right-wing party. Its platform also claims that the state is not “a good manager” and fails at providing services. Its other planks are rather vague: employing more graduates, seniors and disabled persons; fighting tax evasion; transparency; reforming government procurement and bidding; reducing the VAT; investments in infrastructure and simple rules for investors and business. Its anti-corruption proposal seem fairly straightforward on paper: abolishing parliamentary immunity and forcing elected officials to electronically publish their assets when they take office.
Tomio Okamura’s Dawn of Direct Democracy (Úsvit přímé demokracie Tomia Okamury), often referred to as Úsvit, is the other new populist party. Úsvit was founded in 2013 by Tomio Okamura, a Czech-Japanese businessman/entrepreneur and senator.
Okamura, who is 41, was born in Japan to a Japanese father and a Czech (Moravian) mother and moved to Czechoslovakia when he was six, although he worked for nine years of his youth in Japan. Okamura made his money in the hospitality/travel industry, notably serving as vice-president of the Czech association of travel agencies. He also served as director of a major travel agency in Prague and owned shares in various hospitality or travel businesses. Okamura is something of an eccentric and idiosyncratic businessman; some of his past ventures have included a travel agency for stuffed animals and a clothing store selling fashion for Czech women who wanted to dress like young Japanese schoolgirls. Okamura also developed a strong presence in the media, as a spokesman for the travel industry, a co-author of two books (one of which was a best seller) and as a star on the Czech version of Dragon’s Den.
Okamura entered politics last year, when he ran for Senate as an independent candidate in Zlín. He won 30.3% in the first round and easily defeated a ČSSD candidate in the runoff with 66% of the vote. Around the same time, he announced a presidential candidacy and submitted over 61,000 signatures from citizens (50,000 were required to run), but was disqualified when only 35.7k signatures were cleared – the court determined that a lot of his signatures were fictitious. His countless appeals and melodramatic protests were unsuccessful. In May 2013, he created his own party.
Okamura’s ideology is even vaguer than ANO. He has praised communism and socialism, but others have also called his movement “proto-fascist”. As the party’s names indicates, the party’s main issue is the promotion of direct democracy and a radical change in the political system. The party’s platform calls for the use of referenda and initiatives along the Swiss model; the direct election of deputies (presumably FPTP), mayors and governors; the possibility to recall elected officials and a presidential system. His economic and fiscal proposals are clearly right-wing: a ‘cost-effective public sector’, reducing the VAT, a moratorium on tax changes for 3 years, supporting entrepreneurs and business owners to create jobs, opposition to affirmative action/positive discrimination and balanced budgets. Úsvit takes a very tough line against “a layer of people who do not like to work, do not know the words obligation and responsibility and terrorize neighborhoods with crime”. It blames the social system for supporting these people while ‘bullying’ and ‘humiliating’ “law-abiding citizens who find themselves in need”. As such, it wants to limit social benefits to these responsible people who lead a “decent life” and “raise their children properly”. The movement is also critical of the EU and immigration.
Okamura ran into some trouble over the summer when he said that the ‘gypsies’ should be “democratically” sent to India (the ‘land of their ancestors’) to create their own state, like Israel. He couched this controversial statement in the language of the right to self-determination. He also said, in that same interviews, that the Roma are to blame if they face discrimination and racism, it is primarily their own fault. Groups representing the Roma people have called Okamura racist and far-right/neo-fascist.
Naturally, Úsvit is – on paper – very much anti-corruption and the platform is filled with populist outrage over corrupt politicians, corruption and mismanagement. That stuff rings a bit hollow, however, when you consider that VV, now led by the arch-corrupt Vit Bárta, allied with Okamura. Vit Bárta was Úsvit’s top candidate in Plzeň region.
Úsvit is a very wide coalition: besides the remnants of VV, it also includes ODS and other parties’ dissidents, anti-government demonstrators and the regionalist Moravané (Moravians). Okamura, who is of Moravian descent, has proclaimed his Moravian identity a few times and played up his Moravian cultural roots (by wearing Moravian folk costumes, for example).
Turnout was 59.48%, down from 62.6% in 2010. This is the lowest turnout in a legislative election since 2002, when turnout had crashed to only 58% from 74% in 1998. This is fairly significant: the 2002 election was another high point of anti-system sentiments four years after the ‘opposition agreement’ and the first signs that politics were turning into a dirty, corrupt game limited to a closed circle of political elites and their friends and financiers in big business and lobbying firms. Turnout increased in the 2006 election (64.5%), a more polarized contest with a clear-cut division between Paroubek’s ČSSD and the ODS, but it fell to 62.6% in the last election.
Turnout has been even lower in recent ‘lower stakes’ election at the regional level or for the Senate: turnout in the 2012 regional elections was 36.9%, down from 40% in 2008.
ČSSD 20.45% (-1.63%) winning 50 seats (-6)
ANO 2011 18.65% (+18.65%) winning 47 seats (+47)
KSČM 14.91% (+3.64%) winning 33 seats (+7)
TOP 09 11.99% (-4.71%) winning 26 seats (-15)
ODS 7.72% (-12.5%) winning 16 seats (-37)
Úsvit 6.88% (+6.88%) winning 14 seats (+14)
KDU-ČSL 6.78% (+2.39%) winning 14 seats (+14)
Greens 3.19% (+0.73%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 2.66% (+1.86%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Party of Free Citizens 2.46% (+1.74%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SPOZ 1.51% (-2.82%) winning 0 seats (nc)
DSSS 0.86% (-0.24%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.81% (-3.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Czech elections reflected, far and above anything else, voters’ deep-seated dissatisfaction (and outright anger) with with the political system, which is associated with corruption, mismanagement and a poor economy. While the ČSSD won the most votes, their result was unexpectedly terrible – very much a Pyrrhic victory for them, the second in a row after the 2010 election. Instead, the main winners of this election were new populist parties – and the main losers were the two old parties, the ČSSD and especially the ODS.
Czech politics are in a long-term crisis. Since 2002, almost every Prime Minister from either of the major parties have had their own corruption scandals. A number of senior politicians in all the major parties have also been involved in corruption scandal. It is common knowledge that politicians have close relations with businessmen and lobbyists (if they are not businessmen themselves), and that they more often than not govern to please these powerful interests who return the favour by providing their campaigns and parties with hefty financial support. Politicians and corrupt senior bureaucrats are said to take their share of money from the bidding in government contracts. Voters, to put it simply, no longer trust the established political parties and the politicians. This is not a recent development, but the past three years have very much reinforced these sentiments: widespread corruption at the highest levels, corrupt politicians in the public spotlight all topped off with an economic crisis, unpopular austerity and cuts to social programs.
The ČSSD has more or less managed to lose two elections in which they had been the runaway favourites for a long period of time beforehand. In 2010, the ČSSD did poorly (22% of the vote) and was unable to form a centre-left government despite having won large victories over the centre-right in the 2008 regional elections. This year, the ČSSD had a sizable lead in polls dating back to early 2011 and even during the campaign, the ČSSD was generally between 24% and 28% in the (notoriously unreliable) polls. At any rate, the ČSSD expected to win somewhere close to 70 or so seats, which would allow it to form a minority government with KSČM support – a sentiment which was shared by most observers at the time. Even during the campaign, even if the ČSSD and KSČM saw their support fall during the course of the campaign, a ČSSD minority government was still seen as the most likely outcome. After the fact, the ČSSD and KSČM won only 83 seats (101 required for a majority), due entirely to the ČSSD’s terrible result.
The ČSSD ran a poor campaign in which its internal squabbles overshadowed its platform or any appeal it might have had as the main alternative to the right. The publicized internal crisis in the party reinforced widespread perceptions that party politicians are self-serving and self-interested committed to their personal well-being and comfort rather than the national interest. The ČSSD was also a victim of the political mood, which is disdainful of the established major parties and totally fed up with the political system. The ČSSD has also been hurt by corruption, even if it has been in opposition nationally since 2006, and few voters likely associate ČSSD with major change or renewal.
The ČSSD and ODS, which have dominated Czech politics for almost two decades, won only 28.17% of the vote together. In 2010, by no means a good year for either parties, they had still won 42.3%. In 2006, a polarized contest, they won over two-thirds of the vote to themselves. These numbers, again, speak for themselves. The total collapse of the two traditional parties reflects record-high dissatisfaction with the political system and the old parties.
Most upheaval, however, took place on the right. The main winners were new right-wing populist parties: Andrej Babiš’ ANO 2011 placed second with a remarkable 18.7% of the vote, while Tomio Okamura’s Úsvit managed a respectable 6.9%, just a bit below the showing of the hitherto dominant right-wing party, ODS. Together, these two new populist parties on the right won 25.53%, which is more than the combined sum of TOP 09 and ODS (19.71%) or that of the ‘winning’ party (ČSSD with 20.5%).
The ODS was the major loser of this election. To put its defeat into context and to emphasize what this all means: only seven years ago, the ODS won 35% of the vote and although it won a paltry 20% in 2010, it nevertheless retained its dominance of the Czech right. The party had the bad luck of being the ones who got caught with their paws in the cookie jar (a lot of parties often put their paws in the cookie jar, of course) when everybody was watching. The ODS, however, was hardly in better shape before the Nagyová scandal destroyed the party. In the regional elections a year ago, they won only 12% of the vote and the ODS’ no-name candidate won like 2% of the vote in the presidential election in January. Prior to the scandal, the ODS had already been hit by other corruption scandals and it was closely tied to Petr Nečas’ unpopular government – seen as ineffective on corruption issues and behind unpopular austerity measures and the bad economy. The Nagyová scandal not only ruined whatever reputation it still had left, but also left the party without much leadership. The ODS’ low-key campaign in this election consisted of running away from its brand. Its main billboard ads, for example, consisted of a horrible Twitter slogan: “#Volím_pravici” (vote for the right), including, yes, the hashtags and underscore. The billboards didn’t even include the ODS’ logo, although they did include the Twitter logo!
TOP 09 had somewhat better luck. Although it too saw its support decline fairly significantly since the last election, winning only 12% of the vote compared to 16.7% in 2010. However, the party has managed to establish itself as the main ‘traditional’ party on the right, ahead of the ODS. The party was likely held in large part thanks to Karel Schwarzenberg’s personal popularity and the publicity his presidential campaign, even if ultimately unsuccessful, attracted for the party – especially with younger voters.
ANO 2011, the main winner of this election, owes its success to widespread disillusionment with the political class, a well-financed and well-run campaign and a generic, vague anti-corruption platform of the same kind which had carried VV to relative success in the last election. After all, in large part ANO 2011 ran on the idea that they were not politicians – but businessmen, journalists and other celebrities or regular citizens – who “worked” and could do a better job running the country than the politicians. Apparently, the concerns over Babiš’ behaviour during communist rule or his very vague platform largely copied from other parties with the addition of generic anti-corruption and anti-tax stances, did not rattle its potential supporters much.
Voters expressed that they are fed up with politics, corruption and the poor economy. Czech sculptor David Černý conveyed his country’s visceral anger towards the political class when he installed a large purple sculpture of a hand pointing the middle finger on a barge in the Vltava River in Prague overlooking the presidential residence, the Prague Castle.
The KSČM did fairly well, although perhaps not as well as it might have expected. It did not break its 2002 record (18.5% of the vote) or its 2012 regional result (20%). The party, which is an attractive protest option for some voters on the left who are not repelled by the party’s baggage, likely gained some votes from dissatisfied left-wing voters. There isn’t much to say about the KSČM in the end: foreign observers always tend to express shock at KSČM successes at the polls or over-dramatize its meaning, when in the end this is a party which has done similarly well in the past (2000, 2002, 2004) and which can be counted on to perform well whenever the ČSSD is unpopular or discredited (2000/2002: opposition agreement, 2004: unpopular ČSSD government in power, 2012: ČSSD’s weak performance in opposition and recently hurt by David Rath’s corruption scandal). Its success in this election owes to similar factors. Some media reports noted that the KSČM had been somewhat successful in attracting younger voters to the fold; voters so burnt out by the corruption and the decrepit political class that they were willing to give the KSČM a chance.
Higher turnout than in the 2012 regional elections, in which the Communists had done very well, may also explain the party’s weaker result in this election. The party has an old, stable, motivated and loyal base of supporters who increase the party’s share of the vote in lower-turnout elections (such as regional elections). Indeed, the KSČM won far more votes in this election (741,044) than in 2012 (538,953) although less than in 2002.
The KDU-ČSL, not noticed by many, managed to reenter the Chamber some three years after it lost all its seats in a disastrous election. The party likely picked up some former ODS voters. While the party is not very strong, the KDU-ČSL – like the Communists – have managed to survive because they have strong infrastructure at the grassroots level; the party, like the Communists, have a very large number of members (although, again, a lot of them are old and inactive in party activities) and it has retained a strong electoral base at all levels of government in Moravia.
One surprise in this election was SPOZ’ poor performance. President Zeman’s personality appreciation machine not only failed to enter Parliament, it won significantly less votes than it had in 2010 (4.3%). After Zeman’s election earlier this year, SPOZ’ support in the polls increased, often over the 5% threshold, and many predicted that they would have a good chance of winning seats in this election. As such, this is a surprising rebuke for President Zeman, who will not have the luxury of having his own personal vehicle represented in Parliament.
Hlavu vzhůru, a list endorsed by former President Václav Klaus, won only 0.42% of the vote. The neo-Nazi and anti-Roma Workers’ Party (DSSS) did poorly, winning only 0.9% of the vote (they had won 1.1% in 2010).
Here is an excellent map of the results down the very micro municipal (district in Prague) level, with the ability to generate individual maps for the major parties and compare to results of past elections since 1996.
What is quite striking, although not necessarily all that surprising, is the extent to which ANO 2011’s support patterns coincides with the traditional geographic base of the right (ODS, ODS+TOP 09 in 2010) in the past elections. With one, however, significant exception: ANO 2011 performed relatively poorly in Prague, the traditional bastion of the right. It won 16.5% of the vote in the national capital, below its national average. Within the city, the party’s support was lowest in the wealthier districts of the city centre: 11.8% in Prague-1, the prestigious Medieval old town. TOP 09 topped the poll in Prague with 23% of the vote, by far its best result. It did best in the city’s most affluent districts.
This link provides correlation graphs between the parties in Prague, as well as a great map of results by precincts in the city. TOP 09 and ANO, as well as the Greens and ANO, showed a fairly marked negative correlation in Prague. ANO did best, glancing at precinct results, in outlying neighborhoods and in some neighborhoods with densely packed communist-era apartment blocks.
Karel Schwarzenberg helped out the party in Prague (and the country in general). Standing as TOP 09’s top candidate in Prague, Schwarzenberg won 37,794 preference votes, or 28% of all ballots cast for TOP 09 in the city. Miroslav Kalousek, in contrast, won only 10,246 preference votes as the top candidate in Central Bohemia.
On the other hand, the party also performed well in North Bohemia (not generally a right-wing stronghold): its top two regional results were 21.3% in Karlovy Vary Region and Ústí nad Labem/Ústecký Region. North Bohemia is a traditional industrial area (mining) which has the highest unemployment rates in the region and a “newer” population – most residents settled in the region after 1945, following the expulsion of Sudeten Germans. It has provided a political base for the far-right in the past, and it remains one of the KSČM’s strongest regions (already in 1946, the KSČ had performed best in the former Sudetenland, especially North Bohemia).
ANO 2011 was likely boosted by its alliance with Severočeši.cz (North Bohemians.cz), a local party which holds two seats in the Senate and won 12% in the 2012 regional elections in Ústí nad Labem. Allied with ANO 2011 in Ústí nad Labem region, S.cz elected two of its candidates to the Chamber.
There seems to be a fairly solid (albeit not perfect) correlation between strong support for ANO 2011 and towns where Agrofert owns a company. One particular result piqued my interest: ANO 2011 won 32% of the vote (which is huge) in Lovosice (Ústí nad Labem), which apparently has a major agricultural fertilizers industry – and Agrofert owns two companies in that city. A blog post on Ihned.cz looked at the links between ANO’s results and Agrofert companies. In a lot of smaller towns in which Agrofert is the main employer, ANO did very well: Valašské Meziříčí, 26%; Chropyně, 23%; Napajedla, 27%; Přerov, 24%; Hlinsko, 24%; Kostelec, 30%; Hustopeče, 22%. Ihned found that out of 40 towns with Agrofert companies, ANO placed first or second in all but four of them. In Průhonice, a town located just outside of Prague in which Babiš has invested a lot of money, ANO won 31% of the vote. The article cited above mentioned how locals said that they appreciated Babiš because he provided jobs, offered job security and took good care of his employees.
That being said, ANO 2011’s support seems to have been fairly evenly distributed: its support ranged from 16% to 21.5% in all fourteen regions.
The excellent Datablog on the Ihned website did some basic vote transfer analysis. It shows that most of ANO’s supporters had backed right-wingers in 2010: 22.6% voted ODS, 19.2% voted VV and 18.9% voted TOP 09. About 23% had not voted in 2010, and 11.2% had backed other parties. However, very few of ANO’s voters came over from the left: only 4.3% from the ČSSD and 0.7% from KSČM. The ČSSD largely lost votes to the Communists (15.1% of the KSČM’s 2013 voters had voted ČSSD in 2010) or Okamura’s Úsvit (12.2% of his voters had backed the ČSSD in 2010).
Úsvit voters mostly came from VV (27.7%) or other parties (24.8%, including the KDU-ČSL). 15% came from the ODS, but only 5.8% came from TOP 09.
The ODS lost a lot of votes to TOP 09: about a third of TOP 09’s supporters in this election had voted for the ODS in 2010 (about 189,600 voters). Therefore, TOP 09 lost a lot of voters to ANO (about 175,150) and other parties (about 122,000 votes) but gained a lot from the ODS.
The KSČM also did best in Ústí nad Labem region (20.3%). The party’s map is rather similar to the map of the pre-1945 German population in the Czech Republic (Sudetenland), with the exception of Liberec. Following World War II, the Czechoslovak government controversially expelled the German population from the Sudetenland, and these territories were extensively resettled with Czechs or Slovaks. In North Bohemia, many of these new settlers came to work in the region’s mines and heavy industry. Territories which were resettled after World War II have long been Communist strongholds: in the 1946 election, the last semi-free election before communist rule, the Communist Party’s support was closely correlated to the former Sudetenland and areas of pre-war German population. Resettlement, of course, meant major social upheaval and the construction of a new, completely different social structure than in the past. Settlers must also have felt some kind of indebtedness for newly acquired property, and certainly were very hostile to subsequent German demands for reparations, compensations or right of return. The KSČ and today the KSČM have taken strongly nationalist and anti-German stances. Earlier this year, for example, the KSČM strongly condemned a speech given by then-Prime Minister Petr Nečas in Munich in which he expressed regret for the wrongs caused by the population transfers.
This blog post, in Czech, looked at the results in the former German Sudetenland. The KSČM won 18.2% of the vote in the former Sudetenland, compared to 14.2% in the rest of the country. Protest parties also did better in the former Sudetenland: ANO also did about 2% better, Úsvit won 7.9% (6.7% in the rest of the country); TOP 09, ODS and especially the KDU-ČSL all did worse in the Sudetenland. TOP 09 won 9.6% in the former German territories, but took 12.5% in the rest of the country. TOP 09’s results across the country seem to reflect an affluent, well-educated and economically successful population (notably small-business owners and entrepreneurs); therefore it is unsurprising that TOP 09 would perform poorly in the former Sudetenland, which is poorer than the rest of the country. TOP 09 also did poorly in the industrialized mining basin of Moravian Silesia.
The KDU-ČSL won 4% in the former German territories, but won 7.4% in the rest of the country. The KDU-ČSL’s significantly lower results in the former Sudetenland is striking in the Olomouc Region, as the aforementioned blog article found: looking at the map of the KDU-ČSL’s result in the Rýmařov and Bruntál regions of northern Moravia/Silesia. As the map to the left shows, the party’s results are significantly lower in towns which were largely German until 1945. In this same region (Nízký Jeseník), economically depressed and resettled after 1945, the KSČM did very well in a lot of small villages.
In North Bohemia, the KSČM’s best results came not from the largest industrial cities or even the major mining centres, but rather from small towns and rural areas. In other regions where the KSČM did well, the patterns appear to be rather similar: the KSČM didn’t do extremely well in more populous towns, but they did very well in smaller towns and rural areas. I would suppose that these rural areas have an older population (hence the higher propensity to support the KSČM) and political traditions might still play a role.
The above blog article also emphasized the role of comparative economic deprivation in strong KSČM results. One region where this certainly appears to be true is Liberec Region. It is something of a right-wing stronghold: TOP 09 did quite well in the region, winning 15.2% of the vote – to be fair, TOP 09’s strength might have a lot to do with its alliance with a local party, Mayors for Liberec Region (SLK) which actually won the 2012 regional elections. Nevertheless, the region has tended to be economically stronger than other Sudetenland regions, which are more deprived (high unemployment, social tensions due to a high Roma population in North Bohemia, poor economy). Liberec and Jablonec are large urban areas (which is generally favourable, on balance, to the right-wing parties in the Czech Republic), and the Communists only won about 11% of the vote in both of those cities. However, in the same region, the KSČM did very well in the area around Frýdlant (Frýdlantská pahorkatina/Jizera mountains), an economically depressed region with high unemployment. The Communists won 18.3% in Frýdlant itself and did even better in small towns, winning upwards of 25-30%.
A basic analysis comparing various demographic indicators to the election results found some interesting results, although correlation does not equal causation. In municipalities with high unemployment, the KSČM won 21.5% of the vote, placing a strong second behind the ČSSD (23.3%). TOP 09 (6.4%) and the ODS (4.9%) performed worse in areas with high unemployment, while Úsvit did better (8.2%). In areas with low unemployment (Prague area, major urban areas in Central Bohemia, Plzeň, České Budějovice, Hradec Králové), TOP 09 won the most votes with 19.9%, against 17.7% for ANO, 16.3% for the ČSSD and only 10.8% for the Communists (basically tied with the ODS, which won 10.7%). In towns with low population density, the Communists won 20.6% of the vote, only a few points behind the Social Democrats (21.4%). TOP 09 and the ODS, again, did significantly worse in these less populous villages. From these indicators, one party whose vote share varied little was ANO: it did not do significantly better or worse in any kind of town by these selected indicators. Like a protest party, drawing from everywhere?
By far, the ČSSD’s best region was Moravia-Silesia (26.4%) and the party won 31.8% of the vote in Karviná district – a major coal mining basin. Outside the solidly leftist mining basin of Czech Silesia and solidly right-wing Prague, the ČSSD’s support was fairly homogeneously spread throughout the country. It did more poorly in Liberec region (16.9%) and Central Bohemia (18.4%).
The KDU-ČSL’s support is heavily concentrated in Moravia, winning over 10% of the vote in Vysočina, South Moravia and Zlín regions. Moravia, poorer, more rural and more clerical than Bohemia, has long been a stronghold of ‘Catholic clerical’ parties – the ČSL’s support during the First Republic was largely Moravian, the KSČ did poorly in Moravia in the 1946 election (and the ČSL did well) and the KDU-ČSL, after 1990, managed to retain a lot of that rural, Catholic Moravian support. As noted above, the KDU-ČSL did very poorly in the former German territories. This likely means that, after 1990, the KDU-ČSL did well where it inherited a strong interwar ČSL tradition. In German areas, voters in the interwar years had backed German parties and Czech parties like the ČSL (among others) had little footing if any.
Úsvit’s support was quite evenly distributed as well: outside of Prague (only 3.2%) and Zlín (10.2%), its support in other regions varied between 5.5% and 8%. VV leader Vit Bárta was unable to win reelection standing as Úsvit’s top candidate in the Plzeň region; however, VV members won three seats standing on Úsvit’s lists.
This election has not ended the political crisis in the Czech Republic. Far from it, it has only prolonged it further. The ČSSD had been expecting (and was expected) to win some 65-70 seats, which would have allowed it to form a minority government with KSČM support. Instead, the ČSSD won only fifty seats, and a ČSSD-KSČM government would have only 83 seats.
One party has upset all these plans: ANO 2011. The party’s major success at the polls means that their support is very much crucial to any future government. However, Babiš isn’t too hot on the idea of participating in a coalition government. Before the election, he repeatedly said that his movement would help pass “good laws” in opposition rather than being in government, and he more or less reiterated that on the day following the election. He had ruled out working in government with either ODS or TOP 09, seeing those parties as bywords for corruption. There are also significant tensions between Babiš’ new party and the ‘old parties’ of the right, especially TOP 09. Therefore, we can rule out a coalition of right-wing parties (ANO, TOP 09, ODS, KDU-ČSL), which would had only a tenuous 103 seat majority anyhow.
ANO’s results and its impact on the election result means that Babiš’ earlier hopes to remain out of government and to be a ‘constructive opposition’ are unsustainable.
Babiš’ relations with the ČSSD do not seem all that good; the ČSSD (unwisely) dismissed ANO as a commercial party and Babiš has cited significant policy differences with the centre-left, notably on taxation. After the election, Babiš prided himself in saying that he had contributed to the defeat of the left. However, the policy differences do not seem too big to overcome: both parties pledged to reduce the VAT, scrap the healthcare user fees or introduce new anti-corruption measures. Perhaps the most likely government which could be formed now is a ČSSD-led government with the participation or external support of ANO and the KDU-ČSL. Such a coalition would hold 111 seats, which would still make for an extremely unstable government.
For the time being, the situation is further complicated by the nasty infighting within the ČSSD. ČSSD voters contributed to the internal crisis in the party: party leader Sobotka and his pro-Zeman rival Michal Hašek both ran on the party’s list in the South Moravia region. Michal Hašek won more preferential votes than Sobotka, raking in some 25,531 preference votes against 22,175 preference votes for the incumbent ČSSD chairman. After the election, the crisis within the party has worsened. A day after the election (and after having met with Zeman), rebels led by Michal Hašek voted to exclude Sobotoka from the negotiating team and called on him to resign, outraging Sobotka and his allies who spoke of a ‘putsch’ and refused to resign. Since then, Hašek’s pro-Zeman negotiating team fell apart and a new team, led by Sobotka, was established on Wednesday last week. However, Sobotka’s negotiating team is only making courtesy contacts with other parties; the real negotiations will start after the ČSSD’s executive resolves the leadership question on November 10.
Hašek has the backing of about 22 ČSSD MPs, against 18 for the incumbent leader and ten sitting on the fence. The nasty infighting in the largest party further complicates government formation and creates the threat that the country’s last remaining ‘credible’ governing party could fall apart.
The situation is further complicated by President Miloš Zeman, the wildcard in all this – and very much a crucial player. Zeman is responsible for nominating a Prime Minister, although the constitution imposes no time limits for the nomination of a Prime Minister and Zeman is probably in no hurry to make his decision before the ČSSD’s crisis has been resolved. In the meantime, Zeman’s presidential cabinet (Rusnok) will remain in place as a caretaker government, giving Zeman a hand in the day-to-day ruling of the country.
Normally, the President would nominate the leader of the largest party (or the leader of the party which could assemble a coalition) to the office of Prime Minister and that would be that. However, it’s clear that Zeman isn’t a normal President. He has already indicated that he may not choose to nominate the leader of the largest party (Sobotka); instead, Zeman said that he would name a ‘representative’ from the party which won the most votes. Zeman has already intervened in the post-election crisis. On Saturday October 26, the ČSSD rebels led by Hašek met with Zeman. In an interview he gave on Sunday October 27, Zeman said that Sobotka should resign because of the ČSSD’s poor showing. It is quite clear that Zeman would like to nominate somebody like Hašek as Prime Minister. It would provide him with a friendlier government, which he could hope to influence.
Regardless of what government is patched together on these numbers, what seems rather certain is that the next government will be very unstable. It will be hard to get a stable government when it is dependent on the backing of ANO 2011, a brand new populist party whose ideology is uncertain and whose capacity to survive after an election is also quite uncertain (see the example of VV’s rapid collapse). Karel Schwarzenberg and ODS leader Miroslava Němcová have both already stated that they think that there will be new elections, within one or two years according to Schwarzenberg. Zeman has said that he opposes new elections, and called on politicians – including himself – to take their responsibilities and ensure the formation of a stable government. However, an unstable government, especially if it is led by the pro-Zeman wing of the ČSSD, would likely be very weak in the face of the increasingly powerful presidency. As such, the upcoming political instability only strengthens Zeman. Therefore, even if Zeman’s horse in the race (SPOZ) did very poorly, he can still be considered as one of the major winners of this election.
How will Czech politics, currently in a state of flux, evolve in the coming years? Will the ČSSD and ODS, the two old major parties which both did terribly in this election, reinvent themselves in a way which is more appealing to an electorate which is fed up with the old party system and corruption? Will the ODS ever be able to regain its dominance of the right, having been upset not only by TOP 09 but also ANO in this election? What will become of the two new populist parties which emerged in this election? Few are predicting a long future for Úsvit, an unstable and fractious party made up of diverse elements and with an appeal resting on very vague nations of ‘direct democracy’ and nationalistic sentiments. Most expect Okamura’s party to collapse within a few years. However, what will become of Babiš’ ANO? Will the party, especially if it is compelled to enter government, go the way of VV and collapse in scandal and dissension within a few years? ANO’s appeal might very well wear off, and the party’s relatively vague ideology could come back to haunt it. On the other hand, ANO seems like it is built on a more solid footing than VV was; Babiš appears to be a stronger, more determined leader who is committed to building a party organization and hopes to entrench his party as a major party in the new, unpredictable game of Czech politics. In short, could Babiš actually become the Czech Berlusconi; the charismatic tycoon who builds his own party (around himself), leads it to success at the polls and weathers tougher times to become a mainstay in his country’s political system.
The Czech Republic may very well have lived a realigning election, which marks the fall of the relatively stable and straightforward (left-right) party system which had predominated between 1996 and 2010 (2010 could be seen as a ‘transition’ election to a new party system) and the rise of a new party system, one in which new populist parties led by tycoons or other charismatic figures (less closely tied to traditional ideologies) compete with the remaining ‘older’ ideological parties (and also one in which a president is intent on imposing his own stamp on the political system).
The second round of direct presidential elections were held in the Czech Republic on January 25-26, 2013. The President serves a five-year term, renewable once. Although often described as a ceremonial head of state, the President does have a few significant powers. The President has veto power over legislation, although the legislature can override a veto. The President also appoints judges to the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, may dissolve the Chamber of Deputies under certain circumstances and has shared authority with the Prime Minister over foreign policy, the use of the military, the appointment of lower court judges, and the granting of amnesty. Until 2012, the President was indirectly elected by members of both houses of Parliament in a convoluted process open to corruption and back-room political deals. This was the first time that Czech voters directly elected their President. I covered the first round here.
Two colourful candidates qualified for the runoff two weeks ago. Miloš Zeman, a former Social Democratic (ČSSD) Prime Minister between 1998 and 2001 who has since broken with his party, won 24.2%. Karel Schwarzenberg, a wealthy Bohemian aristocrat who is the country’s foreign minister in the centre-right government, won 23.4%.
Both candidates are colourful personalities; Zeman is noted for his sharp and often insulting wit, his populist demeanor and his controversial views on issues such as climate change or Muslims. As Prime Minister, he helped modernize the country and guided the country towards eventual EU membership in 2004. However, his confidence and supply agreement with the centre-right ODS in 1998, then led by Václav Klaus, now the outgoing President, has been controversial. Many see the deal between the two dominant parties, ČSSD and ODS, as the deal which entrenched links between big business interests and the two major parties. The country has struggled with endemic political corruption. Zeman was endorsed by Václav Klaus, the outgoing centre-right President (in office since 2003), a controversial figure known for his outspoken opposition to the European Union and his skepticism of man-made climate change. Although Zeman is supportive of European integration, he is also rather pro-Russian. His links with shady lobbyist Miroslav Šlouf (linked to the late mafia kingpin František Mrázek) and the Russian oil company, LUKoil, have raised questions about his campaign’s funding.
Karel Schwarzenberg, is a Bohemian prince, rather colourful in his own right. An urbane and sophisticated aristocrat, he is known for his sharp appearance but also his tendency to doze off during long meetings. His family fled Czechoslovakia for Austria in 1948 after the communist coup, and Schwarzenberg was active in Austrian conservative politics during the Cold War. When he returned to Prague in 1990, he became a close friend and ally of Václav Havel, the leading opponent of the communist regime who served as President between 1993 and 2003. He has served as foreign minister in the centre-right government since 2010 (and before that between 2007 and 2009). He is a leading figure in the pro-European centre-right TOP09 party.
Both candidates had pledged to run a clean campaign in the runoff, but the campaign became rather acrimonious quickly. In a TV debate on January 17, Schwarzenberg drew criticism when he said that the expulsion of Czechoslovakia’s inter-war German minority, the Sudeten Germans, after World War II would be considered a war crime today and the creators of the Beneš decrees (laws which led to the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans after the war) would be tried as war criminals in The Hague. Schwarzenberg was also criticized for his long exile abroad and for the fact that his wife cannot speak Czech. President Václav Klaus, who supports Zeman, expressed concern about Schwarzenberg, pointing to his wife’s inability to speak Czech and his emigration during the communist regime.
During a TV interview, Zeman made a sexist joke in an attempt to criticize his opponent’s aristocratic roots. He said that raping female serfs had conferred an evolutionary advantage on squires (Zeman’s last name means squire/yeoman) while princes degenerated because “they did not have to rape their serfs.” Women’s groups criticized Zeman’s comment.
Zeman’s strategy was to turn the runoff into a campaign between the left (him) and the right (Schwarzenberg) and link his opponent to the unpopular right-wing government. The current government, led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas, is very unpopular because of austerity policies which have led to a double-dip recession and deeply entrenched corruption in the governing parties.
Turnout in the runoff was 59.1%, down from 61.3% in the first round.
Miloš Zeman (SPOZ) 54.8%
Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) 45.19%
Former Prime Minister Miloš Zeman was elected President of the Czech Republic by a bit less than 10 points. The unpopularity of the current government played a large role in Schwarzenberg’s defeat. Zeman was able to turn the presidential runoff into a battle of the left versus the right, and linked Schwarzenberg to the unpopular government. Although Schwarzenberg as foreign minister is not directly linked to the austerity policies and he is one of the government’s most popular members, he could still be easily associated with Petr Nečas’ government and the unpopular austerity policies, which in good part have been spearheaded by another member of Schwarzenberg’s party (TOP09), finance minister Miroslav Kalousek.
Zeman’s campaign was very adroit at exploiting latent patriotic, anti-aristocratic and anti-German sentiments with older, rural voters. Aristocrats, especially German-speaking aristocrats like Schwarzenberg, are unpopular figures. In the nineteenth century, aristocrats and the Czech nobility did not play a major role in the rebirth of Czech nationalism and the promotion of the Czech language. More radical nationalists and the left cast the aristocracy as the enemy. Following the independence of Czechoslovakia, aristocratic titles were cancelled and their land was redistributed in a land reform in 1919. Decades of communist rule after 1948 encouraged anti-aristocratic sentiments. Similarly, many older (and rural) voters hold anti-German sentiments, dating back to the 1930s. Zeman, his opponents would contend, ran a very underhanded dirty campaign which played up nationalistic and anti-aristocratic sentiments. They were able to portray their opponent as insufficiently Czech and patriotic; and too worldly. Schwarzenberg’s comments about the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans after World War II certainly did not help matters for him, neither did his own biography.
The map of the runoff reveals a major rural – urban divide, and something of a regional divide between Bohemia and Moravia/Silesia. Unsurprisingly, the map was basically a traditional left-right contest.
Schwarzenberg’s electorate, like in the first round, was urban, fairly young, middle-class/well off and white-collar. He won 66% of the vote in Prague and similar percentages in two affluent suburban districts which surround the Czech capital. Outside Prague, his support was again largely urban. He won Plzeň, Brno, Liberec and České Budějovice. He came close in the district containing Karlovy Vary, a spa city in northern Bohemia. On the other hand, Zeman’s electorate was more rural, older, blue-collar and economically deprived. There was a regional aspect in the split, Schwarzenberg performed best in central Bohemia, the old aristocratic base of the country and generally a rather well-off region. On the other hand, Zeman won by big margins in the eastern regions of Moravia, Silesia and also North Bohemia – poorer regions, some of them very industrialized. Zeman’s best result was 76% in Karviná, the heart of a coal mining basin in Silesia. He also won larger urban centres in Silesia and Moravia: Ostrava, an industrial city (65%); Olomouc (59%) and Zlín, an old industrial city (54%). Zeman also performed well in North Bohemia, usually the Communist Party’s strongest region. This is a major industrial (coal mining) region which was extensively resettled after the war (following the expulsion of Sudeten Germans) by Slovaks or Moravians. Zeman, generally, did better in rural and lower-income areas which have suffered the brunt of the government’s austerity policies.
Zeman’s victory means the replacement of one strong-willed and influential President by another similar figure; the difference between the two men is that Zeman appears more pro-European than Klaus, and unlike both of his predecessors he is ready to support a government which is supported by the Communist Party. Zeman has said that he would attend cabinet meetings and try to influence important legislation. The presidency is still a largely ceremonial function, but the direct election of the president might give the president more legitimacy to play a more active role in Czech politics. Zeman will take office in March.
The first round of direct presidential elections were held in the Czech Republic on January 11-12, 2013 with a runoff scheduled for January 25-26. The President serves a five-year term, renewable once. Although often described as a ceremonial head of state, in contrast to the Austrian and Hungarian presidents, the Czech President does have a few significant powers. The President has veto power over legislation, although the legislature can override a veto. The President also appoints judges to the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, may dissolve the Chamber of Deputies under certain circumstances and has shared authority with the Prime Minister over foreign policy, the use of the military, the appointment of lower court judges, and the granting of amnesty.
Until 2012, the President was elected indirectly by the members of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate through a convoluted and overly complex process. This electoral process, as in 2003 and 2008, was marred by allegations of backroom deals between parties/politicians and corruption. The 2008 presidential election was quite controversial, and led to the reform of the system. Since a reform last year, the President is directly elected to serve a two-year term. Some have criticized this reform, saying that the direct election of the President would strengthen his power and weaken parliament (the country is a parliamentary republic).
Since the fall of communism and the Velvet Divorce in 1993, two very forceful and imposing personalities have held the presidency. Václav Havel, the playwright and leading opponent of the communist regime, served until 2003. Havel was widely respected at home and abroad for his work in establishing democracy in his country. He was succeeded in 2003 by Václav Klaus, who had served as Prime Minister between 1992 and 1997 and founded the ruling conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS). In contrast to the widely respected Havel, Klaus is a far more controversial figure known for his outspoken opposition to the European Union and his skepticism of man-made climate change. He took strong stances against the European Union, which often irritated his European neighbors. Klaus was critical of the Lisbon Treaty and was reluctant to sign it, although he ultimately did. In recent years, Klaus has clashed with the governing centre-right coalition, even though it is led by the ODS.
The current government is led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS). Nečas’ cabinet is patchy and has been living on the edge since April 2012. One of his junior partners, the gadfly Public Affairs (VV) party was kicked out of the coalition (but some VV deputies stayed in government, forming a new party, LIDEM). The government lacks a coherent absolute majority in the lower house.
The government has implemented stringent austerity measures, including cutting investment, public spending and raising taxes. These austerity policies decreased public demand and led to a double-dip recession. The country’s economy shrunk by around 1% in 2012. However, the country’s deficit has been getting smaller: 3.2% of the GDP in 2011, down from 5.8% of the GDP in 2009. The cabinet is dead-set on getting the deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, it has recently introduced a bill to raise the VAT by 1% and raise taxes for high earners. Austerity has been unpopular with voters, and hurt the ODS and its allies in regional and senatorial elections in October 2012. But neither the ODS nor the inept opposition ČSSD (social democrats) are popular with voters. Elected on a platform of cracking down on corruption, Nečas’ cabinet has done – more or less – the opposite. Corruption is prevalent both within the governing parties and the opposition ČSSD, and voters are disgusted by corrupt politicians and the backroom deals which dominate the unstable parliamentary politics.
In early November 2012, the government survived a backbench revolt led by six ODS MPs who disagreed with the cabinet’s decision to raise the VAT by 1%. In somewhat obscure circumstances, the government was able to convince most of the rebels to back down: two supported it, three members resigned rather than voting on the confidence motion (they were replaced by the next-in-line candidates on the ODS’ 2010 list) and one left the party. The government survived, 101-93. The government could face another confidence vote in the next few days, following Klaus’ controversial decision to pardon over 6000 prisoners and cancel all court proceedings which had been ongoing for over eight years.
Presidential candidates needed the signatures of 50,000 citizens or the support of 20 deputies or 10 Senators. There were nine candidates, including some colourful personalities. The governing ODS nominated Přemysl Sobotka, a senator and former president of the Senate. The ČSSD nominated Jiří Dienstbier Jr., also a senator and the son of a noted dissident. However, both of these candidates had a tough time appealing to many voters in a crowded field and against some colourful personalities.
The frontrunners in the campaign were Jan Fischer and Miloš Zeman. Fischer is a statistician who was head of the Czech Statistical Office until he became a caretaker Prime Minister for a year between 2009 and 2010, after Mirek Topolánek’s cabinet collapsed. Fischer was a popular and competent Prime Minister. His candidacy received the support of Prague’s business community, which is often considered a mixed blessing for Czech politicians given the close links between big business and some politicians. He was also criticized for having been a member of the Communist Party between 1981 and 1990, but like many Czechs he defended himself by saying that membership in the ruling party was the only way for apolitical civil servants and academics like him to maintain employment. Fischer’s campaign was generally pro-European and pro-business, but his campaign was fairly colourless.
In stark contrast to the mild-mannered and technocratic Fischer, Miloš Zeman is a brash and sharp-elbowed old politico who has a reputation for abrasiveness and rudeness. Zeman was the leader of the ČSSD in the 1990s and was behind the party’s rise to power. Zeman’s ČSSD won the 1998 election and he became Prime Minister, after signing an “opposition agreement” with Václav Klaus’ ODS. The ODS provided Zeman’s cabinet with confidence and supply, in return the ODS received high-profile positions in the public sector. This opposition agreement between the two major parties in the country is often viewed as the symbol for the proximity between the two parties, despite their apparent opposition to one another. Zeman served as Prime Minister until 2001. In 2003, he tried to run for President but, having alienated members of his own party, he did not do as well as expected. Zeman remained in the party, but increasingly clashed with the ČSSD’s leadership. Following a dispute with then-leader Jiří Paroubek in 2007, Zeman quit the party. Emerging from retirement in 2010, he founded his own party, the Party of Civic Rights (SPOZ). Zeman is a colourful figure, known for his sharp and often insulting wit, and his controversial views. Like Klaus, he is skeptical of man-made climate change. In 2011, Zeman commented that Islam was the ‘enemy’ and likened Muslims who believe in the Qur’an to anti-Semitic and racist Nazis. While Fischer is a very popular figure, well regarded by most voters; Zeman is a far more controversial and divisive figure. He is well liked by older voters outside of Prague, but many others dislike him. Outgoing President Václav Klaus supported Zeman.
Zeman was widely regarded to have won a final debate, and eclipsed Fischer, the original front-runner in the polls. One of the candidates who benefited from Fischer’s fall was Karel Schwarzenberg, the incumbent foreign minister and the candidate of the pro-European centre-right TOP 09. Schwarzenberg is a wealthy Bohemian prince, known for his sharp appearance. He grew up in Austria and was active in Austrian conservative politics during the Cold War, but he returned to Czechoslovakia when the regime fell and was a close friend and collaborator of Václav Havel. He was foreign minister between 2007 and 2009, nominated by the Green Party, and again since 2010. He is one of the leading founders of TOP 09.
One candidate, Vladimír Franz, attracted international attention for his unusual appearance. An artist, opera composer and university professor, Franz’s body is entirely tattooed. An outsider candidate, his vague anti-corruption and pro-education platform appealed to many younger voters who are tired of the country’s corrupt and ever-bickering ruling elites. He surged to 11% support in the last opinion poll.
Other candidates included MEP Zuzana Roithová, nominated by the KDU-ČSL; Táňa Fischerová, an actress and former MP (2002-2006) for a small pro-European liberal party; and Jana Bobošíková, a former Eurosceptic MEP.
Turnout was 61.31%, a bit below the turnout in the 2010 general election. This turnout seems a bit low, given that the campaign had apparently excited and motivated many voters, leading some to predict 70% turnout. The Communist Party (KSČM) did not nominate a candidate of its own and was split between Zeman and Dienstbier. Judging from the low turnout in the KSČM’s strongest regions, it appears as if many of its voters did not turn out. The results were as follows:
Miloš Zeman (SPOZ) 24.21%
Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) 23.40%
Jan Fischer (Ind) 16.35%
Jiří Dienstbier Jr. (ČSSD) 16.12%
Vladimír Franz (Ind) 6.84%
Zuzana Roithová (KDU-ČSL) 4.95%
Táňa Fischerová (Ind) 3.23%
Přemysl Sobotka (ODS) 2.46%
Jana Bobošíková (Suverenita) 2.39%
As expected, former Prime Minister Miloš Zeman (SPOZ) placed first and qualified for the runoff. The surprise came from the runner-up, foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who won 23.4% and qualified for the runoff, distancing Jan Fischer, the vaguely centre-right independent who was the original front-runner and still widely expected to qualify for the runoff even if his candidacy had lost speed following the final debate.
Fischer’s support base was likely quite soft, made up in large part of urban middle-classes and pro-business centre-right voters whose early support for Fischer might have had more to do with their distaste for the polarizing Miloš Zeman. Fairly bland and colourless despite his widespread popularity with the electorate, Fischer’s support fell apart following the last debate. Many of his supporters, if my assessment of his original support is correct, preferred Karel Schwarzenberg, who had been gaining ground in the polls throughout the campaign. After all, Fischer and Schwarzenberg are fairly ideologically similar.
The other, smaller, surprise came from the ČSSD’s candidate, Jiří Dienstbier, who had been polling in the low teens for most of the campaign. He outperformed most of his polling results, taking 16.1%. I’m not sure what explains his late mini-surge in support. On the other hand, the candidate of the other traditional party – the ODS – did horribly. Přemysl Sobotka won only 2.5% of the votes! Certainly the unpopularity of the current government did not help him, and Sobotka was a largely unknown candidate in a field of heavyweights.
Vladimír Franz did not do as well as some had thought he would. His support had apparently increased to 11% in the last polls, but he came out from the first round in fifth place with only 6.8% of the vote. It should not be surprising that his potential support turned out to be quite soft. During the campaign, his pro-education and anti-corruption stance appealed to many apathetic younger voters. They probably did not turn out for him in the end.
Schwarzenberg, unsurprisingly, did best in Prague (43.2%) and its suburbs, which form his party’s traditional base (educated upper middle-classes). Broadly, his support reflected that of the right, with strong results in urban areas and in the wealthier rural areas of Bohemia. The ODS’ pathetic support was spread equally, at low levels, throughout the country. On the other hand, Zeman’s support closely reflected that of the left. He performed well in Moravia, where the ČSSD is usually stronger, and in the Ore Mountains region of Bohemia (Ústí nad Labem and Karlovy Vary regions). Somewhat surprisingly, Dienstbier’s support does not seem to have closely reflected that of his party in general elections. Certainly somebody who knows more about Czech electoral geography would be able to draw better conclusions out of the general map and each candidate’s regional support.
The runoff, two weeks from now, will oppose Zeman and Schwarzenberg – broadly speaking, the left and right (which is what Zeman is now seeking to present the runoff as). There were no runoff polls before the first round, meaning that at this early stage, we can only rely on hypotheses. Zeman is a divisive and polarizing figure, who may have a strong lingering base of support but who might have trouble winning 50+1 in a runoff election. Schwarzenberg is a less polarizing figure than Zeman, meaning that he could be in a stronger position to win in the runoff. Though I don’t know if such factors could come into play, Schwarzenberg could be perceived as having a more ‘presidential’ image than Zeman, and his foreign policy credentials as well as his ties to the late Václav Havel could come in useful. One would think that Fischer’s support will flow to Schwarzenberg while Dienstbier’s voters will prefer Zeman. Regardless of the winner, the Czech Republic will have a colourful head of state for the next five years.
Regional elections and the first round of senatorial elections were held in the Czech Republic on October 12-13, 2012. The Czech Republic is divided into thirteen regions in addition to Prague. These regions (kraje) were created in 2000 as second-level administrative divisions to replace the old 73 districts. Each region has a regional legislature elected directly through PR with a 5% thresholds, these legislatures in turn elect a regional president. Since their creation in 2000, there have been efforts at devolution to these regional governments, envisioned as better able to handle local government responsibilities than small municipalities. While it has been said that these regions have a great array of powers at their disposal, they have not used them much and regional government remains pretty weak. Voters, furthermore, have not identified much with these new regions, they preferred the old districts.
The Czech Senate, meanwhile, has 81 members elected by thirds every two years for six year terms. They are elected in single-member constituencies through the two round system. The Senate is a toothless body, which can delay laws passed by the lower house but its veto may be overridden by the lower house with only an absolute majority. Because of its redundancy and weak powers, there have been many calls to abolish the Senate. As a result of the 2008 and 2010 renewals, the opposition social democrats (ČSSD) now have a narrow absolute majority in the Senate.
The last general election, held in 2010, resulted in a centre-right government led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS). He leads a coalition including the ODS, traditionally the major right-wing party in the country and the newer right-wing and more pro-European TOP09 led by Karel Schwarzenberg. Until April 2012, the anti-corruption gadfly Public Affairs (VV) party led by former TV journalist Radek John participated in the coalition, until the party was forced out because of disagreements with the government’s austerity policies. VV, which had broken through in the 2010 general election, collapsed almost as quickly as it had emerged. Like most of these populistic “anti-corruption” outfits, VV wasn’t too clean either: one of its cabinet ministers was accused of taking a bribe. In April 2012, VV was kicked out due to disagreements with the austerity policies, but a split occured when some deputies – led by another cabinet minister, Karolína Peake – wanted to stay in the coalition and formed their own party, LIDEM. VV’s expulsion means that the cabinet is now only a minority government.
Since 2010, the Nečas cabinet has implemented stringent austerity measures, including cutting investment, public spending and raising taxes. The country’s economy shrank by 4.7% in 2009, and it may have be in a double-dip recession now: GDP is projected to shrink by 1% in 2012, down from +1.7% last year. However, the country’s deficit has been getting smaller: 3.2% of the GDP in 2011, down from 5.8% of the GDP in 2009. The cabinet is dead-set on getting the deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, it has recently introduced a bill to raise the VAT by 1% and raise taxes for high earners. These policies have largely been unpopular with voters. But voters are also angry over corruption scandals, which have also touched the inept opposition (ČSSD, social democrats). A prominent ČSSD old-timer (a former minister and current regional president of Central Bohemia), David Rath, got canned for taking bribes and kickbacks.
Turnout was 36.89% in the regional elections, down from 40.3% in 2008. In the 27 senate districts up for reelection, turnout was 34.9%, down from 42.09% in 2006 (the last time they were up). Results for the regional elections overall were as follows, compared to the 2008 regional elections:
ČSSD 23.58% (-12.27%) winning 205 seats (-75)
KSČM 20.43% (+5.4%) winning 182 seats (+68)
ODS 12.28% (-11.29%) winning 102 seats (-78)
KDU-ČSL and allies 9.87% (0.42%) winning 73 seats (+11)
TOP09 + STAN 6.63% (+6.63%) winning 44 seats (+44)
SPOZ 4.16% (+4.16%) winning 7 seats (+7)
Green Party and allies 2.83% (-0.32%) winning 10 seats (+10)
Pirate 2.19% (+2.19%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NEZ 1.68% (+1%) winning 5 seats (+5) winning 5 seats (+5)
SNK ED 1.02% (-0.24%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Regional parties and others 15.33% (+4.32%) winning 44 seats (+8)
In the first round of senatorial elections, no candidate was elected by the first round. 23 ČSSD candidates qualified for the runoff, as did 12 KSČM candidates, 10 ODS candidates, 2 KDU-ČSL candidates, 2 STAN (TOP09 allies) candidates, 1 Pirate, 1 Green and 3 others (2 indies, 1 Ostrava local party). In terms of first place showings, the ČSSD placed first in 11 of the 27 constituencies, the ODS placed first in 5, the KSČM in 4, the KDU-ČSL in two, the Greens in one, the Pirates in one and all three other candidates also placed first.
On these numbers, the ODS has already lost seven of the seats that it had won in 2006 (that year, it won 14 to the ČSSD’s 6) – which means that the party, at most, will hold only 18 seats in the Senate (down from 25) after this election. The KDU-ČSL will also hold fewer seats, it has failed to qualify for the runoffs in two seats they currently hold, meaning that, at most, they will hold four seats in the Senate (down from 6).
Updated with full results:
ČSSD winning 13 seats (+7) > 48 seats (+7)
ODS winning 4 seats (-10) > 15 seats (-10)
KDU-ČSL winning 2 seats (-2) > 4 seats (-2)
Independents winning 2 seats (+2) > 3 seats (+1)
STAN winning 2 seats (+1) > 2 seats (+1)
KSČM winning 1 seat (nc) > 2 seats (nc)
Green Party (SZ) winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
Pirate winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
Ostravak winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
S.cz winning 0 seats > 2 seats (nc)
TOP09 winning 0 seats > 2 seats (nc)
The results are a major defeat for the governing parties. The 2008 regional elections, which had been held under similar political circumstances (a ODS government) were a landslide victory for the opposition ČSSD. This year, however, the ODS’ results were even worse, winning only 12.3% of the vote. Such a drubbing was not too surprising, the ODS had been expected to lose badly at the polls. The Prime Minister tried to downplay the results, noting that voters usually express discontent with the central government during regional elections. He has nonetheless pledged to continue deficit cuts, remaining set on bringing it down the EU’s 3% limit.
As results of various “midterm” elections in the Czech Republic (most notably the last few regional elections) show, these kind of midterm elections do indeed often produce rather bad results for the party in power. However, that explanation may only go so far. The ODS’ mauling (and that of the government in general, with 6.6% it is not like TOP09 did too great either) is not only midterm protest voting, it is also discontent with the austerity policies, the bad economic conditions in the country and the stench of corruption which permeates both the ODS and the ČSSD.
The ODS did top the poll in one region, Plzeň, but Nečas cannot even take solace in that result. In that region, the ODS list was headed by Jiří Pospíšil, a young former justice minister who was fired by Nečas in June 2012. Officially, he was removed from cabinet for opposing the austerity measures. In reality, Pospíšil’s attempts to fight corruption effectively likely rattled a few feathers.
The government is currently facing a backbench rebellion over its new tax plan which would increase the sales tax by 1% and raise taxes on high earners. With an uncertain parliamentary majority, some right-wing backbenchers are threatening to bring down the government on this matter of confidence as soon as next week (October 23). They would need three-fifths of the lower house to force snap elections, which the ČSSD are calling for. The election results will boost the standing of the rebels and put even more pressure on Nečas. The rebels had already received a major boost when President Václav Klaus criticized the tax pan.
The ODS would likely lose badly if a general election were held, but not as badly as in these elections. Turnout was very low in these elections, especially on the right. In a general election, turnout would be above 60% and the centre-right coalition would perform slightly better, but would still enter as the heavy underdog against the ČSSD (and no, being an underdog isn’t necessarily something to be happy about).
The ČSSD emerged as the largest party in these elections, but the party’s results are rather disastrous, especially after the landslide victory it had won in the last regional elections in 2008. Corruption scandals have significantly weakened the party’s standing in public opinion. The ČSSD still topped the poll in nine of the 13 regions, and the senate elections will likely allow them to expand their large (but fairly useless) majority in the upper house.
This means that, on the left and overall, the main winner of these elections are the Communists (KSČM). The KSČM is a controversial party in Czech politics, because it is one of the few (the only?) unreformed communist parties in eastern Europe to still enjoy significant popular support, mostly from a core of devoted activists and voters who turned out heavily in these regional elections. The KSČM has been shunned by the other parties, with the ČSSD expressly refusing to collaborate with them at the national level. This has meant that the KSČM has remained in opposition, vitam aeternam, being able to freely oppose any policies without being held responsible itself.
Much has been made of the KSČM’s result this year, and it is true that it did impressively well. However, it isn’t the party’s first spectacular result in midterm elections of this type. It has never won over 18% of the vote in general elections, but in the 2000 regional elections it won 21.2% and in the 2004 European elections it won 20.3%. The 2000 regionals were held two years after the 1998 elections, in which the ODS agreed to support a ČSSD minority cabinet in exchange for a portion of power. This agreement is remembered as the moment when the two major parties began “cooperating in unfair practices” (cite). In 2004, the ČSSD government was extremely unpopular. The KSČM’s successes in 2000, 2004 and again this year are not emblematic of a revolutionary fervour or a fundamental shift to the far-left, but rather the result of the KSČM raking up protest votes, dissatisfied at the economic situation, rampant corruption in both major parties and the rather thin policy differences between the ODS and ČSSD. With the economic crisis and major discontent at the traditional order of things (politically, but also economically), the KSČM’s vague message of egalitarianism and more jobs struck a chord with many voters.
The Communists have topped the poll in two regions, Karlovy Vary and Ústí nad Labem – both in northern Bohemia, an industrial and mining heartland which has been the KSČM’s main stronghold in the past. Some have expressed satisfaction at the prospect of the KSČM governing two regions, it will give them a chance to prove themselves and will force them to take up actual responsibilities.
The KSČM’s success has had its influence on the ČSSD, whose leader Bohuslav Sobotka has publicly said that he would be open to a ČSSD minority government backed by the KSČM. This is a major change in policy for the ČSSD at the national level. In the past, the virulently anti-communist ČSSD has been hostile to any national government even backed by the Communists (although there has been cooperation at a regional level).
The KDU-ČSL, a right-wing christian democratic party which was thrown out of the lower house in the 2010 elections, did surprisingly well. In coalition with local independents and other assorted local parties, the party did quite well, especially in its Moravian heartlands. It was likely an attractive option for right-wing voters. The party’s success could allow it to return to
As is the case with Czech regional and local elections, in some regions local and regional parties performed well – though in some cases even better than usual. In Liberec region, the Mayors for Liberec Region (SLK – it seems vaguely right of centre and sometimes allied with TOP09), topped the poll with 22% and 13 seats. In that same region, another local party – allied with the Greens it seems – “Change for Liberec” – won 16.9% and 10 seats. In Ústí nad Labem (North Bohemia), the vaguely regionalist Severočeši.cz (NorthBohemians.cz) – a party with two senators from 2010 – won 12% and 9 seats. Local parties also won seats in South Bohemia, Karlovy Vary (in this case, two local parties won seats) and in Hradec-Králové.
The second round of the senate elections will probably confirm the first round. These elections will have a major impact on the embattled Czech government, which could collapse as early as next week if the backbench ODS rebels are successful. Even if Nečas seeks to downplay these results as the product of cyclical midterm disappointment with incumbents, these elections will have severely weakened him and his government. A snap election is not yet a certainty, even if the cabinet collapses, as it requires a three-fifths majority in the lower house to call a snap election. However, the results of this election will increase the pressure on Nečas, run up the internal tension in the ODS and might lead the ODS’ partners to reconsider their participation- for example, TOP09’s leader Karel Schwarzenberg has said that the government’s economic measures should be reevaluated as to mitigate their social impact. All these factors mean that the government will probably not survive until 2014, and that an early election will come sooner than later. In these elections, the ODS risks a debacle, but the ČSSD is only in a marginally better position overall.
Updated October 27: In the second round of senatorial elections on October 19 and 20, the ČSSD increased its absolute majority in the Senate. With 48 seats, it now holds nearly three-fifths of the seats on its own. The ODS lost ten seats, leaving it with only 15 seats in the upper house. The two-round system once again worked against the KSČM, despite qualifying for runoffs in 12 constituencies, they won (rather, held) only a single seat (constituency 5 – Chomutov).
The most important result in these elections was probably turnout – or the lack thereof. Only 18.6% of voters turned up to the polls in the 27 constituencies up for grabs, down massively from 34.9% in the first round. Turnout was down across the board.
Runoffs for a third of the seats in the Czech Senate were held on October 22 and 23, following a first round last week. While the Czech Senate has few powers, it does have a few symbolic powers and control of the Senate is generally important for a government. However, the Senate can only delay and not block legislation from the lower house and the Senate’s decision is easily overridden by a simple majority vote in the lower house. As one might expect, turnout in senatorial elections in the Czech Republic are very low. Though turnout last week was a high 44.59%, it was only because local elections were held on the same day. Turnout today dwindled to 25.15%, which is probably an all time low.
Because no constituency elected a member by the first round, runoffs were held in all 27 constituencies. The opposition ČSSD had done well in the first round, leading in ten seats, while the three main governing parties: the ODS, TOP 09 and VV did rather poorly. Due to the larger fragmentation of the right-wing vote, some had thought that the right could do better in the runoffs overall, but on the other hand the high possibility of a fall in turnout was thought to be a possible benefit for the opposition.
The results confirmed and amplified the first round success of the ČSSD, with the party taking 12 of the 27 seats up for reelection. The ODS took 8 seats, TOP 09 took two, KDU-ČSL took two, S.cz took two and one independent won. These results will give the ČSSD a majority of seats in the Senate, an historic feat. Here is my calculation of the new composition of the Senate:
ČSSD winning 41 seats (+12) including 12 new
ODS winning 25 seats (-10) including 8 new
KDU-ČSL winning 5 seats (-1) including 2 new
TOP 09 winning 3 seats (-3) including 2 new
KSČM winning 2 seats (-1)
S.cz winning 2 seats (+2) including 2 new
SOS winning 1 seat (nc)
Independents winning 2 seats (+1) including 1 new
The ČSSD won by comfortable margins in almost all the 12 seats it won, including three where they had trailed in the first round. This indicates that voters who voted for other right-wing parties (such as TOP 09 and VV) in the first round stayed home, or, more unlikely, voted but didn’t behave as the ODS might have wished. Liana Janáčková, a rather right-wing and controversial independent, was notably defeated in Ostrava-město, though she had taken first place a week ago. VV managed to make the runoff in Frýdek-Místek, but narrowly lost to the left with 48.58% in the runoff. In Pardubice, where the ČSSD had polled a plurality a week ago, an independent narrowly won with 52.23% in the runoff, likely benefiting from good transfers from the right. The independent in question has said that she will probably join the KDU-ČSL ‘club’ (parliamentary group) in the Senate, thus aligning with the right. S.cz, another vaguely independent regional party in northern Bohemia, did well, taking the district it had led on the first round (a full 65% against the ODS) but also a strong win (56%) against the ČSSD in a nearby district. Somebody will probably know better, but this party seems to be based around some sort of opposition to coal mining quotas or limits in the coal (lignite) producing regions of northern Bohemia (Most and Ústí nad Labem). KDU-ČSL’s results were good for them, generally, especially after it’s creaming in May. Being outside parliament, the KDU-ČSL may have a chance at picking up votes from unhappy right-wingers, especially if the ČSSD proves once again unable to provide a strong alternative. On a final note, TOP 09 almost managed a third seat today with a very narrow loss – by 70 votes – in Prague 6 to the ODS.
The ČSSD’s victory is a bit abetted by the low turnout, and the party’s results aren’t equal to their 2008 landslide of epic proportions; but the bottom line is that this is an important victory for the ČSSD and a big blow for the government. The government’s ability to pass legislation will not be significantly altered, though the government may on its side reconsider some of its agenda after an early rebuke by the electorate. Some believe that a shift from budget cuts to tax increases as a remedy for the country’s budget woes is likely; and some believe that the government’s two junior members may start making noises about leaving the majority after their poor showings.
The first round of election for a third of the Czech Senate as well as key local elections were held in the Czech Republic on October 15 and 16. The Senate, which is made up of 81 members elected for six-year terms, is renewed every two years in thirds. The series of seats up this year were elected back in 2004, these seats being constituencies 1, 4, 7, 10, 13 and so on till 79. Senators are elected in a traditional two-round French-like system, with 50% needed to win by the first round. Local elections, in which around 62,000 local councillors were up for reelection, were held throughout the country with the biggest contest in the capital, Prague, where both the city’s mayor and district mayors were up for grabs.
The Senate has little power, it can only delay a bill from the lower house and this veto can be easily overridden with a mere simple majority in the lower house. As a result, turnout in Senate elections has usually been quite low, for example it reached 39.5% in the 2008 first round and was as low as 29% in 2004 (when these seats were last up). It shouldn’t be a surprise then that Senate elections tend to feature blow-outs, for example in 2008 the ČSSD won 23 of the 27 seats up (at a time when the ODS government was unpopular) while in 2004 the ČSSD won none of the seats up (in the Euro elections the same day, the ČSSD, then in power, came fifth overall).
The Czech Republic voted in general elections in May and its government is only four months old. In May, both traditional parties, the centre-right ODS and the centre-left ČSSD did especially poorly, to the benefit, largely, of two new right-wing parties, TOP 09 (which is more pro-European than the ODS) and VV (Public Affairs, a populist thing). The Greens and KDU-ČSL were wiped out, though the old Communists held their ground remarkably well. A coalition government led by the ODS’ Petr Nečas was formed by the ODS, TOP 09 and VV on a platform which includes major cuts to spending and public sector wages in an attempt to bring down the country’s budget deficit to the EU limit of 3% instead of the current 5.8%. One might think that the government would still be in its honeymoon a mere four months, but governments in bad economic times often have extremely short honeymoons as the economic circumstances force them into immediate and oftentimes unpopular actions. Voters tend to like calls for a healthy budget, low deficits and strong finances in election times but they often don’t like the fine-print revealed afterwards which says that their wages and social programs will have to suffer a bit in return.
While the government isn’t yet in the abyss, the poll ratings of all three governing parties have slid somewhat and the aura of ‘change’ and ‘newness’ which surrounded VV and TOP 09 in May have been tarnished a bit. Turnout reached a rather healthy 44.59% in the Senate election, a result perhaps of the local elections held on the same day. No one won by the first round, which is somewhat unusual, but not at all surprising considering the division of the votes these days. In fact, no candidate even broke 40% of the vote and most won under 35% of the votes in their constituencies. After the first round, the ODS leads in 11 seats, the ČSSD leads in 10, TOP 09 and KDU-ČSL are ahead in two seats each while two smaller parties (S.cz and NEZ) lead in one seat each. In
According to my calculations, in the seats not up this year, the ODS (and independent ODS types) has 17, ČSSD (and independent ČSSD types) has 29, the KDU-ČSL have 3, the KSČM (Communists) have 2, TOP 09 has 1, a small liberal party (SOS has) 1, and another seat is held by a random independent. I don’t know how much weight we should put in it, but Czech news website iDNES says that if the results of the first round were repeated in the runoff, the new Senate would be as follows:
ČSSD 40 seats (+11)
ODS 28 seats (-7)
KDU-ČSL 4 (-1)
TOP 09 3 (-3)
KSČM 2 (-1)
S.cz 1 (+1)
NEZ 1 (nc)
SOS 1 (nc)
Independent-NSK 1 (nc)
Of course, there’s still the runoff to go and given the further dispersion of right-wing votes than those of the left, it is possible that the right will do better in the runoff than in the first round. But, turnout in the runoff is usually even lower than in the first round and there are no local elections then to motivate turnout. That means that those who will probably vote in the runoff will probably be more likely to be opponents of the government than supporters of the government, especially if the latter suffer a morale drop from media headlines declaring the first round a quasi-rout for the right.
Already, in nine seats held by ODS incumbents, the ČSSD is ahead by the first round and in three of those, the ODS is already out by the first round. The ČSSD also has a shot in districts 58 and 70, held by KDU-ČSL and NEZ respectively. Overall, the ČSSD has 22 candidates in runoffs and ten of those are leading by the first round. The ODS has 19 candidates and 11 of them are ahead already. TOP 09 has five candidates in runoffs and two of them are ahead (both incumbents, in Karlovy Vary and Prague 10). One TOP 09 incumbent, a former Christian democrat, was defeated by the first round in the East Bohemian district of Ústí nad Orlicí (Pardubice region). TOP 09, overall, did relatively poorly and did not break through much in the Prague region, where one might have expected some big gains for the party there, coming from the ODS. The KDU-ČSL has three candidates, two of whom are leading. It held its ground quite well in its traditional Moravian heartland, which shows to some extent that the party isn’t dead despite it’s historic drubbing in May. VV is in the runoff in one place, in district 73 (Frýdek-Místek) in Moravia, where it is narrowly trailing the ČSSD as a result of the first round.
The ČSSD’s ‘victory’ isn’t as spectacular as some might make it out to be, given that it’s overall raw score remains quite paltry (low 20s or something) and that it merely gained back ground it shouldn’t have lost in its Moravian and east Bohemian bases. These seats were last up in 2004, and 2004 most certainly wasn’t a normal year. In fact, it was one of the most abnormal years in Czech elections and it was obvious that this year would be a ‘correction’ to the anomaly of 2004. Furthermore, one should remember that, similarly to the French PS, the ČSSD is very good at winning off-year local-level or low-interest elections but doesn’t seem to be able to do as spectacularly in the elections that actually matter. Lest we forget, the ČSSD’s former leader, Jiří Paroubek, was incompetent and it currently does not seem to have gotten itself a leader ready to inspire voters, though interim leader Bohuslav Sobotka doesn’t seem all that bad.
In local elections, the ČSSD has gained back some ground but didn’t do spectacularly overall. Associations of local parties and independents still hold nearly half of the seats, 30597 overall though these independents won only 12% of the votes. ČSSD won 19.7% of the votes cast, ODS got 18.8%, KSČM won 9.6%, TOP 09 won 9.5%, KDU-ČSL took 5.5% and VV took only 2.9% and did not break through anywhere.
Prague, Europe’s fifth wealthiest city, has been a stronghold of the ODS, which has held it since the first local elections in 1994. However, the emergence of TOP 09 as a centre-right pro-European type party has challenged ODS somewhat, and TOP 09 won the city in May. It was a big target for the party this year, and it seems to be one of the party’s few bright spots. It won 30.3% of the vote and 26 seats against 21.1% and 20 seats for ODS. ČSSD won 17.9% and 14 seats, up two while the Communists lost 3 seats and won 6.8% and 3 seats. A coalition between the Greens and SNK-ED, which held 10 seats in 2006, collapsed entirely and won a mere 5.9%. It is certainly a blow to the ODS, but it isn’t one which should come out of the blue entirely. Former central bank governor Zdenek Tuma is the favourite to become Mayor.
The Senate runoffs will tell us more about the results, but it is not totally crazy to think that if TOP 09 and VV do badly again in the runoffs they could reconsider their participation in the cabinet. Mid-term cabinet collapses are not unusual in the Czech Republic, especially if their junior partners feel that they made the wrong decision in joining the cabinet. The government could also consider shifts in its policy, such as dropping budget cuts in favour of tax hikes as a method to bridge the deficit. If the results of the first round are confirmed, this first test for the Czech government could prove interesting as a point of comparison to other European countries which recently elected governments committed to some tough budget cuts (UK, Slovakia, Netherlands especially) where their governments may or may not be doing so well in a few months time.
A long-awaited and much anticipated general election was held in the Czech Republic on May 28 and 29. All 200 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, which are elected in 14 electoral constituencies through d’Hondt 5%-threshold PR, were up for election, almost four years after the last election in 2006. This election, originally rumoured to be in 2009, was much delayed until it was finally set to May 2010. In May 2009, the government of Mirek Topolánek collapsed after a non-confidence motion was passed, after months of stalemate in a parliament where the government held 100 seats and the opposition held 100 seats – making the government dependent on both shaky coalition allies and one or two opposition rebels. Since then, a caretaker government – which ended up lasting over a year – was formed led by Jan Fischer, a little-known economist and former head of the Czech Statistical Office.
Since around the mid-1990s, two parties have dominated Czech politics. On the right, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) was founded in 1991 by neoliberal members of the heterogenous anti-communist Civic Forum, which had won a crushing victory in the 1990 elections. The ODS’ most famous member is Václav Klaus, Prime Minister between 1992 and 1997, and incumbent President. He is known for his eurosceptic views and his denial of man-made global warming. The ODS does stick out from other European conservative parties for its euroscepticism and it’s more pro-American positions – it is similar in those regards to the British Tories, with whom they are allied in Brussels. On the left is the old Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), originally founded in Austro-Hungarian Bohemia in 1878 and later a major Czech party during the First Czech Republic. The ČSSD was, unlike most East European parties, re-created in 1989 and thus was not a continuation of the communist party. The ČSSD did move slightly to the right, like almost all its European counterparts, on economic issues, and between 1998 and 2002, Social Democratic Prime Minister Miloš Zeman governed with the ODS’ support and undertook some major economic reforms. The Czech Republic sticks out in another way from its neighbors by the continued strong showing of a totally unreformed and ‘undesired’ communist party, a continuation of the KSČ. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), which peaked at 18.5% of the vote in the 2002 elections, is largely unreformed and remains outside of all coalition governments, and has also been often on the verge of banning due to its more radical communist positions. On the right, the Christian democratic KDU–ČSL, also a continuation of a pre-war party, has usually been the third or fourth party, relying on remnants of support for the old ČSL in poorer rural areas in Moravia. There have been two, now three, ephemeral outbursts of other parties, the first was the far-right in 1996 led by the Republicans of Miroslav Sládek (8%), which exploited latent anti-German and anti-Rom sentiments in the industrial areas of Bohemia (which used to be in the Sudetenland). The second came from the more pro-European social liberal centre, namely the Freedom Union, which won 8.6% in 1998 before receding in 2002 to 9 seats through a deal with the KDU–ČSL and completely collapsing in around 2004, in favour of the centre-right Green Party which won 6% in 2006 but has since fallen from peaks of up to 10%.
Perhaps the result of the economic crisis, but also the result of old corruption scandals in both major parties and the poor leadership of both Topolánek and Social Democratic leader Jiří Paroubek, there has been a boom in the fortunes of new, small populistic and ‘alternative’ parties. The largest one is TOP 09, founded by pro-European dissidents of the ODS and the KDU–ČSL’s right-wing, which is led by former Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. It has gained a lot from Topolánek’s gaffes and incompetence, the most recent incident of which (insulting comments towards Catholics, Jews and homosexuals) forced him to resign in mid-campaign from the ODS’ leadership in favour of Petr Nečas. The second major party is the Public Affairs (VV) outfit, a right-populist party led by Radek John, a former popular investigative journalist, whose support came from John’s popularity as well as VV’s ‘alternative’ and “we’re not crooks” message. A smaller party, the SPOZ, founded by former ČSSD Prime Minister Miloš Zeman (an enemy of Paroubek), has also enjoyed some support.
Here are quasi-final results:
ČSSD 22.08% (-10.24%) winning 56 seats (-18)
ODS 20.22% (-15.79%) winning 53 seats (-28)
TOP 09 16.70% (+16.70%) winning winning 41 seats (+41)
KSČM 11.27% (-1.54%) winning 26 seats (±0)
Public Affairs 10.88% (+10.88%) winning 24 seats (+24)
KDU–ČSL 4.39% (-2.84%) winning 0 seats (-13)
SPOZ 4.33% (+4.33%) winning 0 seats (+0)
Sovereignty – Jana Bobošíková Bloc 3.67% (+3.67%) winning 0 seats (+0)
Green Party 2.44% (-3.85%) winning 0 seats (-6)
The result are an umitigated disaster for three parties: the ČSSD (which polls its worst result since 1996), the ODS (by far its worst result), and the worst result for the KDU–ČSL since the ČSL’s first electoral participation in 1920. All three parties have one thing in common: they’re divided, they’re unpopular, they’re associated with corruption or ‘old politics’ and the first two are the major parties which seem to be so hated this election. The Greens paid dearly their division since 2009, as well as their support of the Topolánek cabinet, and bears the brunt of the ODS’ unpopularity. The KSČM, which, still set in the Stalinist mindset, remains unable to become a durable alternative, and especially not in this election, where those who really desire an alternative are 2006 ODS voters. Radek John’s VV has won an excellent result, and he bears the weight of most of the protest or alternative voting in this election, while TOP 09 attracted many voters disenchanted with the ODS. The good result by Miloš Zeman’s party and the eurosceptic party led by MEP Jana Bobošíková has also attracted significant support, though not enough to enter Parliament. What is most showing of the two major parties’ rout is their combined vote: 42.3% against 67.7% in 2006 – all full 25 points lower than four years ago!
The massive fragmentation of parties after this election makes forming a stable coalition, which is more than a necessity during an economic crisis, much harder. The KSČM will extremely likely remain sidelined. It remains to be seen whether the ODS will ally with its ideological counterparts, TOP 09 and VV, or if one or both of these insurgent parties will ally with the ČSSD. It also remains to be seen what will happen to these parties, who campaigned largely on being the alternative to the ODS and ČSSD, after they enter a coalition as they’re likely to do. A grand coalition between ODS and ČSSD would be great way for both parties to continue on the road to the trash can, a road which they’ve already taken together since 2006. Jiří Paroubek, unexpectedly and surprisingly, was smart enough to read the writing on the wall and took heed of the ČSSD’s awful result and resigned, and commented that a right-leaning coalition was a near certainty. A coalition between ODS, TOP 09 and VV holds 118 seats out of 200, while the right in 2006 (composed of the ODS, KDU-ČSL and Greens) held 100.
The electoral office’s page here offers an easy overview of regional results. The ODS keeps the upper hand around Prague and in central Bohemia, a traditional stronghold of the big agrarian business and agriculture, and formerly a stronghold for the Republican Party of Agrarian and Smallholding Peoples during the First Republic. In Prague, a stronghold of the ODS, the ODS plummeted a full 23.5%, leaving first place to TOP 09. The more affluent and liberal voters of Prague likely preferred the more pro-European TOP 09 to the ODS. Prague is by far TOP 09’s best region with 27.3%, and it generally did well in the same areas where the ODS did well – those more well-off Bohemian area. It didn’t break through in the KDU-ČSL’s Moravian bases, specifically the regions of Jihomoravský and Vysočina, where the KDU-ČSL still managed around 8 and 7% respectively. The ČSSD, on the above map, is clearly on top in Moravia, the poorest region of the two (central Bohemia is the historical centre of the gentry and rural aristocracy) and where old industry has led to high unemployment, and won 29% in the old coal basin of Czech Silesia. The KSČM continues its traditional dominance in both Czech Silesia but also the Bohemian industrial belt in Ústecký. Most of the population in this former industrial basin of the old German Sudetenland was extensively re-settled in 1945 and 1946, notably with a lot of Slovaks or Moravians, and integration has often been hard, sparking resentment and protest which was also expressed with votes for the ephemeral far-right in 1996.
Here is the first post in a series of posts concerning the various Euro results from June 7. The results for the major parties winning seats (or not, in a few cases) are presented here, along with a very brief statistical analysis of what happened. If applicable, a map of the results is also presented. Again, except for the Germany map, all of these maps are my creations.
ÖVP 30% (-2.7%) winning 6 seats (nc)
SPÖ 23.8% (-9.5%) winning 4 seats (-3)
HP Martin’s List 17.7% (+3.7%) winning 3 seats (+1)
FPÖ 12.8% (+6.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Greens 9.7% (-3.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
As I expected, the junior partner in government, the centre-right ÖVP came out on top but the most surprising was the ÖVP’s decisive margin of victory over its senior partner, the social democratic SPÖ. In fact, the SPÖ, like the German SPD, has won its worst result since 1945. This is probably due to a poor campaign a poor top candidate – Hannes Swoboda. Swoboda ranted against job losses and outsourcing when he himself did the same thing to his employees at Siemens. The good result came from Hans-Peter Martin’s anti-corruption outfit, which got a third seat and increased it’s vote. While improving on its poor 2004 result, the far-right FPÖ is far from the 17.5% it won in the 2008 federal elections. A lot is due to abstention (anti-Euro voters being a large contingent of the abstentionists) and also Martin’s success. The Greenies have unsurprisingly fallen, though they held their second seat due to late (and still incoming) postal votes. The BZÖ of the late Jorg Haider fell just short of the threshold, and it did not win Haider’s Carinthian stronghold. Turnout was 45.3%, slightly up on 2004.
GERB 24.36% (+2.68%) winning 5 seats (nc)
BSP 18.5% (-2.91%) winning 4 seats (-1)
DPS 14.14% (-6.12%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Attack 11.96% (-2.24%) winning 2 seats (-1)
NDSV 7.96% (+1.89%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Blue Coalition (UDF and DSB) 7.95% (-1.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
The pro-European centre-right GERB won, as in 2007, defeating the Socialists (BSP, officialy grouped with smaller parties in the ‘Coalition for Bulgaria’). The Turkish minority party DPS fell significantly compared to its surprisingly excellent 2007 result. This is due to higher turnout and to competition (by Lider) in the very active vote buying market in Bulgaria. The liberal NDSV led by former Bulgarian monarch Simeon II came back from the dead to win 2 seats and increase its vote share – all this due to a top candidate who had a high personal profile and popularity in an election where person and popularity are very important.
Democratic Rally 35.7% (+7.5%) winning 2 seats
AKEL 34.9% (+7%) winning 2 seats
Democratic Party 12.3% (-4.8%) winning 1 seat
Movement for Social Democracy 9.9% (-0.9%) winning 1 seat (+1)
European Party 4.1% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
To my surprise, the opposition centre-right (albeit pro-reunification) DISY defeated the governing communist AKEL. However, both parties increased their share of the vote compared to 2004, mainly on the back of the centrist anti-reunification DIKO and the Social Democrats (who won a seat due to the collapse of the liberal European Party).
Civic Democrats (ODS) 31.45% (+1.41%) winning 9 seats (±0)
Social Democrats (ČSSD) 22.38% (+13.6%) winning 7 seats (+5)
Communist Party (KSČM) 14.18% (-6.08%) winning 4 seats (-2)
KDU-ČSL 7.64% (-1.93%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Of the shocking results of the night, the Czech result was a shocker to me. I had predicted the Social Democrats to win all along (most polls agreed, albeit very late polls showed a narrow ODS lead), and you have this very large ODS victory that really comes out of the blue. This is really quite a piss poor result for the ČSSD and its controversial and, in my opinion, poor, leader, Jiří Paroubek. I wasn’t surprised by the results of either the Communists (on a tangent, the KSČM is the only formerly ruling communist party which hasn’t changed it name and it remains very much stuck in 1950) or the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). The KSČM’s loses were predictable because 2004 was an especially fertile year for them (the ČSSD was in government, a very unpopular government). Two small parties which won seats in 2004 – the centre-right SNK European Democrats (11.02% and 2 seats) and the far-right populist Independents (8.18% and 2 seats) suffered a very painful death this year. The SNK polled 1.66%, the Independents (most of which were Libertas candidates) won 0.54%. The Greens, a parliamentary party, won a very deceiving result – 2.06%. This is probably due to turnout, which remained at 28%.
Social Democrats 21.49 % (-11.1%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Venstre 20.24% (+0.9%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Socialist People’s Party 15.87% (+7.9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Danish People’s Party 15.28% (+8.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Conservative People’s Party 12.69% (+1.3%) winning 1 seat (nc)
People’s Movement Against the EU 7.20% (+2.0%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Liberal Party 4.27% (-2.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
June Movement 2.37% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Liberal Alliance 0.59%
Red: SD, Blue: Venstre, Purple: SF, Green: DF
No real surprise in the Danish results, which were as I expected them to be. The Social Democrats drop compared to their superb 2004 showing was to be expected, obviously. Obviously, these loses were profitable not to the government (Venstre, Liberals) but to the Socialists (SF) and the far-right (DF). SF and DF have won their best result in any Danish election, either European or legislative. The June Movement, the second anti-EU movement which is in decline since it’s shock 16% in 1999, has lost its sole remaining MEP. The older (and leftier) People’s Movement has picked up some of the June Movement’s vote, though its results are far from excellent. Despite an electoral alliance with the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals (Radikal Venstre) lost its MEP.
Centre 26.1% winning 2 seats (+1)
Indrek Tarand (Ind) 25.8% winning 1 seat (+1)
Reform 15.3% winning 1 seat (±0)
Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica 12.2% winning 1 seat (±0)
Social Democrats 8.7% winning 1 seat (-2)
Estonian Greens 2.7%
Turnout was up 17% in Estonia over 2004, reaching 44% (26.8% in 2004), correcting the weird result of 2004 which saw the normally weak Social Democrats come out on top. However, the surprising result here was Reform’s rout (compared to the 2007 general elections) at the profit of Indrek Tarand, a popular independent. The opposition Centre Party, however, came out on top. However, the map clearly shows that Tarand took votes from all places – Centre, Reform, right, Greenies (winning a very deceiving 2.7%), and Social Democrats. The Centre came out on top purely due to the Russian vote in Ida-Viru and in Tallinn, the capital (despite the name, the Centre performs very well in urban areas – it’s not at all a rural centrist party a la Finland).
National Coalition 23.2% (-0.5%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Centre 19% (-4.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Social Democratic Party 17.5% (-3.7%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Greens 12.4% (+2%) winning 2 seats (+1)
True Finns 9.8% (+9.3%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Swedish People’s Party 6.1% (+0.4%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Left Alliance 5.9% (-3.2%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Christian Democrats 4.2% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
No surprises from Finland, which came out roughly as expected. The junior partner in government, the centre-right National Coalition (Kok) defeated its senior partner, the agrarian liberal Centre Party. However, the Finnish left (SDP and Left) suffered a very cold shower, winning its worst result in years. The Left even lost its sole MEP. A lot of that left-wing vote probably went to the Greenies (who won a very good result) and also the anti-immigration True Finns (in coalition with the Christian Democrats, which allowed the Christiandems to get one MEP). The Swedish People’s Party ended up holding its seat. The map is quite typical of Finnish elections, with the agrarian Centre dominating in the sparsely populated north and the National Coalition dominating in middle-class urban (Helsinki, where they narrowly beat out the Greenies for first) and suburban areas. The Swedish vote is concentrated on the Åland islands (over 80% of the vote for them) but also in small fishing communities on the west coast of Finland (which does not show up on the map).
CDU/CSU 30.7% + 7.2% (-6.6%) winning 42 seats (-7)
SPD 20.8% (-0.7%) winning 23 seats (nc)
Greens 12.1% (+0.2%) winning 14 seats (+1)
Free Democrats 11% (+4.9%) winning 12 seats (+5)
The Left 7.6% (+1.5%) winning 8 seats (+1)
In the EU’s most populated country, the Social Democrats took a major hit by failing to gain anything after the SPD’s horrible (worst since 1945) result in 2004. Overall, the Christian Democrats (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel and its Bavarian sister, the CSU, won as in 2004 but their vote also took a hit (the CDU/CSU was a popular opposition party then, they’re the senior government party now). The winners were of course the Greens, who held on to their remarkable 2004 result and in fact gained a 14th MEP, but certainly the right-liberal Free Democrats (FDP). The Left also gained slightly compared to 2004. The Left’s map remains largely a map of the old DDR but, for the first time, you have darker shades appearing in the West – specifically in the industrial regions of the Saar, the Ruhr and Bremen city. In the end the CSU had no problems with the 5% threshold and they won a relatively decent (compared to most recent results, not 2004 or 2006) result – 48% – in Bavaria. Frei Wahler took 6.7% in Bavaria, and 1.7% federally.
PASOK 36.64% (+2.61%) winning 8 seats (nc)
New Democracy 32.29% (-10.72%) winning 8 seats (-3)
Communist Party 8.35% (-1.13%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Popular Orthodox Rally 7.14% (+3.02%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Coalition of the Radical Left 4.7% (+0.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecologist Greens 3.49% (+2.88%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pan-Hellenic Macedonian Front 1.27%
No Greek surprise overall, though the Greenies’ poor result could be one. As expected, the opposition ‘socialist’ PASOK defeated the governing unpopular and corrupt right-wing New Democracy. However, there remains no great love for PASOK, partly due to the fact that both ND and PASOK are very similar. The Communist Party (KKE), one of Europe’s most communist communist parties (it still lives in 1951, decrying bourgeois and capitalists), won 8.35%, slightly above its 2007 electoral result but below the KKE’s excellent 2004 result (over 9%). The surprise came from LAOS and the Greens. The Greenies, who were polling 8-11% in the last polls, fell to a mere 3% partly due to a controversial video by the Green Party leader who said that Macedonia (FYROM, the country) should be allowed to keep its name (s0mething which does not go down well in Greece). Most of the Green strength in polls came from disenchanted ND supporters who ended up voting LAOS (the ultra-Orthodox kooks). The Radical Left (SYRIZA) won a rather poor result, probably due to the fact that it is seen as responsible for the violence and lootings during the 2008 riots in Athens.
Fidesz 56.36% winning 14 seats (+2)
Socialist 17.37% winning 4 seats (-5)
Jobbik 14.77% winning 3 seats (+3)
Hungarian Democratic Forum 5.31% winning 1 seat (nc)
The surprise in Hungary came from the spectacular result of the far-right quasi-Nazi Jobbik (which has its own private militia), which did much better than any poll or exit poll had predicted. Jobbik’s results significantly weakened the conservative Fidesz which won “only” 56% (down from 65-70% in some polls). The governing Socialist MSZP took a spectacular thumping, as was widely expected. While the right-wing MDF held its seat, the liberal SZDSZ (f0rmer coalition partner in the MSZP-led government until 2008) lost both of its seats.
Fine Gael 29.1% (+1.3%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Fianna Fáil 24.1% (-5.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Labour 13.9% (+3.4%) winning 3 seats (+2)
Sinn Féin 11.2% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Libertas 3.1% (new) winning 0 seats (new)
Socialist 1.5% (+0.2%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green Party 1.1% (-3.2%)
As expected, Fine Gael came out on top of FPVs in Ireland, inflicting a major defeat on the governing Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil, did not, however, slip to third behind Labour as some pollsters made it seem. This is due in a large part due to Labour’s complete lack of organization in most rural areas. In Dublin, both Fine Gael and Labour incumbents made it through without much sweat. The race, as expected, was for the third seat between the Fianna Fáil incumbent (Eoin Ryan), Socialist leader Joe Higgins and the Sinn Féin incumbent (Mary Lou McDonald). Surprisingly, Sinn Féin was the first out leaving the final seat between Ryan and Higgins. In the end, Higgins got the quasi-entirety of McDonald’s transferable votes and defeated Ryan with 82,366 votes against 76,956 votes for Ryan on the 7th count. Former Greenie (against the party’s participation in government) Patricia McKenna won 4.3% on first preferences against 4.7% against the official Greenie (however, further transfers from joke candidates got McKenna all the way to count 5, while the Greenie got out by count 3). In the East, Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness got elected on the first count, quite the feat indeed. However, no luck for Fine Gael’s second candidate in holding the third seat held by a retiring Fine Gael incumbent. Labour’s Nessa Childers, second on first prefs, far outpolled John Paul Phelan (FG’s second candidate) and got the second seat. Fianna Fáil held its seat. In the North-West, all incumbents (1 Independent ALDE, 1 FF, 1 FG) held their seats with Marian Harkin (Ind-ALDE) topping the poll (however, both Fianna Fáil candidates combined outpolled him and Fine Gael’s MEP). The founder and leader of Libertas, Declan Ganley polled a respectable 13.66% on FPVs and held out till the last count but lost out to Fine Gael due to rather poor transfers from the other anti-Lisbon outfit, SF. In the South, FF incumbent Brian Crowley topped the poll and won easily, as did Sean Kelly (FG). The third seat was between the incumbent Independent (eurosceptic and social conservative) Kathy Sinnott and Labour’s Alan Kelly. Kelly won.
In the local elections, the final seat share is as follows:
Fine Gael 340 seats (+47)
Fianna Fáil 218 seats (-84)
Labour 132 seats (+31)
Others and Indies 132 seats (+40)
Sinn Féin 54 seats (nc)
Socialist 4 seats (nc)
Green Party 3 seats (-15)
People of Freedom 35.26% winning 29 seats
Democratic Party 26.13% winning 21 seats
Lega Nord 10.20% winning 9 seats
Italy of Values 8.00% winning 7 seats
Union of the Centre 6.51% winning 5 seats
Communists (PRC+PdCI) 3.38% winning 0 seats
Sinistra e Libertà 3.12% winning 0 seats
Italian Radicals (Bonino-Pannella List) 2.42% winning 0 seats
Pole of Autonomy (La Destra+MPA) 2.22% winning 0 seats
South Tyrolean’s People Party 0.46% winning 1 seat
Berlusconi Coalition (PdL+LN+Autonomy) 47.68% winning 38 seats
PD Coalition (PD-SVP+IdV+Radicals) 37.01% winning 29 seats
Red: PD, Blue: PdL, Green: Lega Nord, Yellow in Aosta Valley: Valdotanian Union (PdL ally), Yellow in Sudtirol: SVP (PD ally)
The Italian results were certainly a setback for Silvio Berlusconi and his “party”, the PdL, which performed a bit lower than what he and polls had expected (38-41% range). The centre-left PD did relatively well, and this will atleast keep the party from splitting up into the old Democrats of the Left and the Daisy. In terms of coalitions, the two large parliamentary blocs stand almost exactly where they stood overall in 2008, with a very very slight improvement for Berlusconi’s coalition. The marking result of this election is probably that of Lega Nord, which has won its best result in any national Italian election (narrowly beating its previous record, 10.1% in the 1996 general election). The Lega has expanded its support to the “south” (north-central Italy), notably polling 11% in Emilia-Romagna and 4% in Tuscany. The support and future of Lega Nord is to be watched closely in the future, due to a potential new electoral law which could significantly hinder it’s parliamentary representation (more on that later). The other good result is from Antonio di Pietro’s strongly anti-Berlusconi and anti-corruption populist Italia dei Valori, which has won its best result ever, by far. It has almost doubled its support since last year’s general election. After being shutout of Parliament in 2008, the Communists and other leftie parties (Socialists and Greens) are now out of the European Parliament, depsite improving quite a bit on the Rainbow’s 2008 result. Of the two coalitions, the old Communist one made up of the Refoundation Commies and the smaller Italian Commies polled slightly better than the Sinistra e libertà, the “New Left” coalition (Greenies, Socialists, moderate “liberal” Commies). Such was to be expected, but the irony is that both leftie coalitions were formed to surpass the new 4% threshold, and none did. However, if there had been a new Rainbow coalition (the 2008 Rainbow included both the hardline Commies and the New Left), they would have made it. As expected, those small parties which won seats in 2004 due to the old electoral law have been eliminated. These include the fascists, La Destra-Sicilian autonomists/crooks, and the Radicals. The South Tyrolean SVP only held its seat due to an electoral clause which allows these “minority parties” to ally with a party to win a seat. The SVP was the only one of these which was successful in doing so. Two smaller Valdotanian parties (one allied with PdL, the other with IdV) failed to win a seat. In provincial elections held the same days, the right was very successful and of the forty provinces decided by the first round, they had won 26 against 14 for the left. 22 provinces will have a runoff. I might do a post on that if I have time.
Civic Union 24.33% winning 2 seats (+2)
Harmony Centre 19.57% winning 2 seats (+2)
PCTVL – For Human Rights in United Latvia 9.66% winning 1 seat (nc)
Latvia’s First Party/Latvia’s Way 7.5% winning 1 seat (nc)
For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK 7.45% winning 1 seat (-3)
New Era 6.66% winning 1 seat (-1)
Latvian politics are very confusing, mostly due to the huge swings. This time was no different. A new party, Civic Union (probably EPP) topped the poll over the Harmony Centre, a Russian minority outfit. The PCTVL, another Russian outfit, fell slightly compared to its 11% result in 2004, but remained remarkably stable. TB/LNNK, a UEN party which topped the poll in 2004 fell down three seats. The conservative New Era, senior party in the governing coalition, won only 7% (a lot of its members, along with TB/LNNK members apparently joined the Civic Union). The People’s Party, the senior party in the old coalition which fell apart this year due to the economic crisis won barely 2%. The Union of Greens and Farmers, which won something like 16% in the 2006 election polled a mere 3.7%.
Homeland Union-LKD 26.16% winning 4 seats (+2)
Lithuanian Social Democrats 18.12% winning 3 seats (+1)
Order and Justice 11.9% winning 2 seats (+1)
Labour Party 8.56% winning 1 seat (-4)
Poles’ Electoral Action 8.21% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberals Movement 7.17% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberal and Centre Union 3.38% winning 0 seats (-1)
Remarkable stability for a Baltic nation in Lithuania. The winner of the 2008 election, the Homeland Union (TS-LKD) won a rather convincing victory, improving on its 2008 result (only 19.6%) and obviously on its 2004 Euro result (12.6%). The LSDP has picked up an extra seat and has cemented its place as the opposition to the TS-LKD, along with the third-placed populist Order and Justice. Labour, the centrist party which won the 2004 Euro election has seen its seat share cut down from 5 to one, a logical follow-up to its collapse in 2008. The Poles have probably benefited from low turnout (21%) to motivate their base and won an outstanding 8.2% and elected one MEP. I don’t really follow Baltic politics, but if I remember correctly, a government rarely wins re-election, so if that’s true, the result of the TS-LKD is even more remarkable.
Christian Social Party 31.3% (-5.8%) winning 3 seats
Socialist 19.5% (-2.5%) winning 1 seat
Democratic Party 18.6% (+3.7%) winning 1 seat
The Greens 16.8% (+1.8%) winning 1 seat
Alternative Democratic Reform 7.4% (-0.6%)
The Left 3.4% (+1.7%)
Communist Party 1.5% (+0.3%)
Citizens’ List 1.4%
Remarkable and unsurprising political stability in Luxembourg, with no changes in seat distribution. While the CSV and LSAP suffer minor swings against them, the DP and Greens get small positive swings. The Greens’ result is their best ever and one of the best Green results in European elections.
On election night last week, I also covered the simultaneous general election. Here are, again, the full results.
CSV 38% (+1.9%) winning 26 seats (+2)
LSAP 21.6% (-1.8%) winning 13 seats (-1)
DP 15% (-1.1%) winning 9 seats (-1)
Greens 11.7% (+0.1%) winning 7 seats (nc)
ADR 8.1% (-1.8%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Left 3.3% (+1.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
KPL 1.5% (+0.6%)
Labour 54.77% winning 3 seats (nc)
Nationalist 40.49% winning 2 seats (nc)
Obviously no surprise in tiny Malta, where the opposition Labour Party has defeated the governing Nationalist Party. Both sides made gains in terms of votes, feeding off the collapse of the green Democratic Alternative (AD), which won a remarkable 10% in 2004 but a mere 2.3% this year.
Civic Platform 44.43% (+20.33%) winning 25 seats (+10)
Law and Justice 27.4% (+14.73%) winning 15 seats (+8)
Democratic Left Alliance-Labour Union 12.34% (+2.99%) winning 7 seats (+2)
Peasant Party 7.07% (+0.67%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Map by electoral constituency. Key same as above table
Polish politics move quickly, but it seems that this ‘setup’ is here to stay, atleast for some time. The governing right-liberal pro-European Civic Platform (led by PM Donald Tusk) has won a crushing victory over the national-conservative eurosceptic Law and Justice of President Lech Kaczyński. PO’s margin of victory is slightly larger than its already important victory in the 2008 elections. The SLD-UP electoral alliance, which is what remains of the Left and Democrats (LiD) coalition of the 2008 election (encompassing SLD-UP but also a small fake liberal party), won 12%, the average result of the Polish left these days. The Peasant Party, PO’s junior partner in government, won slightly fewer votes than in 2008 (or the 2004 Eur0s). The 2004 Euros, marked by the excellent result of the ultra-conservative League of Polish Families (LPR, now Libertas) and the left-wing populist Samoobrona saw both of these parties collapse. Libertas-LPR won 1.14% and Samoobrona won 1.46%. Smaller ultra-conservative jokes also did very poorly. After the 2004-2006 episode, sanity seems to have returned to Polish politics.
Social Democratic Party 31.7% winning 8 seats (+1)
Socialist Party 26.6% winning 7 seats (-5)
Left Bloc 10.7% winning 3 seats (+2)
CDU: Communist Party-Greens 10.7% winning 2 seats (nc)
Democratic and Social Centre-People’s Party 8.4% winning 2 seats (nc)
Blue: PSD, Red: PS, Green: CDU (PCP-PEV)
Cold shower for the governing Portuguese Socialists after the huge victory of the 2004 Euros. The centre-right PSD has won a major victory by defeating the PS, albeit a relatively small margin between the two. The lost votes of the PS flowed to the Left Bloc (the Trotskyst and more libertarian component of the far-left) and the CDU (the older and more old-style communist component of the far-left), both of which won a remarkable 21.4% together. These voters voted BE or CDU due to the PS’ economic policies, which are far from traditional left-wing economic policies. The PS will need to fight hard, very hard, to win the upcoming general elections in September.
Social Democratic Party+Conservative Party 31.07% winning 11 seats (+1)
Democratic Liberal Party 29.71% winning 10 seats (-6)
National Liberal Party 14.52% winning 5 seats (-1)
UDMR 8.92% winning 3 seats (+1)
Greater Romania Party 8.65% winning 3 seats (+3)
Elena Băsescu (Ind PD-L) 4.22% winning 1 seat (+1)
The close race in Romania between the two government parties ended in the victory of the junior partner, the PSD with a rather mediocre 31%. The PDL’s 30% was also rather mediocre. The PNL also did quite poorly. The two winners are the Hungarian UDMR, which won a rather remarkable 9%, probably benefiting from high Hungarian turnout in a very low turnout election. The far-right Greater Romania Party overcame past setbacks and won three seats and a surprisingly good 8.7%. This is due in part to the participation of the far-right quasi-fascist PNG-CD on its list (the party’s leader, the very controversial Gigi Becali, was the party’s second candidate on the list). László Tőkés, an Hungarian independent elected in 2007 (sat in the Green-EFA group) has been re-elected as the top candidate on the UDMR list.
Smer-SD 32.01% winning 5 seats (+2)
Slovak Democratic and Christian Union–Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS) 16.98% winning 2 seats (-1)
Party of the Hungarian Coalition 11.33% winning 2 seats (±0)
Christian Democratic Movement 10.87% winning 2 seats (-1)
People’s Party–Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS) 8.97% winning 1 seat (-2)
Slovak National Party 5.55% winning 1 seat (+1)
Smer’s result is definitely deceiving for them and possibly a sign that their past stellar poll ratings will slide to the benefit of the opposition SDKÚ-DS. However, the SDKÚ-DS (but also the KDH and obviously the ĽS-HZDS) have slid back compared to their 2004 Euro results. While the collapse of the ĽS-HZDS (formerly led by former quasi-dictator Vladimír Mečiar) is good news, the entry of the quasi-fascist Slovak National Party, Smer’s charming coalition partners, is not. However, the SNS’ 5.6% is not the 10% it used to poll and hopefully they stay low.
Slovenian Democratic Party 26.89% winning 2 seats (nc)
Social Democrats 18.48% winning 2 seats (+1)
New Slovenia 16.34% winning 1 seat (-1)
Liberal Democracy 11.52% winning 1 seat (-1)
Zares 9.81% winning 1 seat (+1)
In Slovenia, the oppostion centre-right SDS has defeated the ruling Social Democrats. Here again, the current political setup between SDS on the right and SD on the left, a rather new setup, seems set to stay for a few years. The NSi, which won the 2004 election, and the LDS, which used to dominate Slovenian politics, have both slumped back. The new liberal Zares won 9.8%, roughly its level in the 2008 election.
People’s Party42.23% (+1.02%) winning 23 seats (-1)
Socialist 38.51% (-4.95%) winning 21 seats (-4)
Coalition for Europe (EAJ-CiU-CC) 5.12% (-0.03%) winning 2 seats [1 EAJ, 1 CiU] (±0)
The Left 3.73% (-0.38%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Union, Progress and Democracy 2.87% winning 1 seat (+1)
Europe of Peoples 2.5% (+0.05%) winning 1 seat (±0)
As expected, the conservative PP defeated the governing PSOE, but due to the polarized nature of Spanish politics, no landslide here. However, the PSOE definitely polled poorly, though the PP didn’t do that great either. The regionalists held their ground well, and CiU got some little gains going in Catalonia. Aside from UPyD’s narrow entry and the obvious PP gains, it was generally status-quo.
Social Democrats 24.41% (-0.15%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Moderate Party 18.83% (+0.58%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Liberal People’s Party 13.58% (+3.72%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Greens 11.02% (+5.06%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Pirate Party 7.13% (new) winning 1 seat (+1)
Left 5.66% (-7.14%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Centre 5.47% (-0.79%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Christian Democrats 4.68% (-1.01%) winning 1 seat (nc)
June List 3.55% (-10.92%) winning 0 seats (-3)
Sweden Democrats 3.27% (+2.14%)
Feminist Initiative 2.22%
First map: Parties (SD in red, M in blue) – Second Map: Coalitions (Red-Green in red, Alliance in blue)
The Swedish results must come as a major deception for both major parties, the Social Democrats and the governing Moderates. Both had done horribly in 2004 and the 2009 results are no improvements for either of them. In fact, the opposition SD has in fact dropped a few votes more from the 2004 disaster. These loses profit to the smaller parties in their respective coalitions (Red-Green for the SD, Alliance for M). The Liberals did very well, unexpectedly well in fact, and elected a third MEP. The Greens drew votes from Red-Green voters dissatisfied by the unpopular SD leader, Mona Sahlin, and its vote share increased by 5%. Of course, Sweden is now famous for electing one Pirate MEP, and even a second MEP if Sweden gets additional MEPs as planned by the Treaty of Lisbon. The Left’s vote fell significantly from its good showing in 2004, while the vote for smaller coalition parties – the Centre and Christian Democrats also slid a bit. The eurosceptic June List, which had won 14% in 2004, fell to a mere 3.6% and lost its 3 MEPs. However, this result might have prevented the far-right Sweden Democrats from picking up a seat. The Feminists, who had one MEP after a Liberal defection, won a surprisingly decent 2%, far better than what polls had in store for them. In terms of coalitions, the governing Alliance actually won with 42.56% against 41.09% for the opposition Red-Greens.
Longer, special posts concerning the Euro elections in Belgium, France and the UK will be posted in the coming days.