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Czech Republic: Elections likely to intensify crisis

Parties elected -- Red: Communist; Orange: ČSSD; Blue: ANO 2011; Purple: TOP 09.

By Jirí Málek

October 29, 2013 -- Transform! -- After a government crisis in summer, early elections were called in the Czech Republic. October 25-26 were the D days. The campaign was relatively short and the program documents were of little interest to the majority.

The campaign was more about persons and political marketing. Polls were showing positive results for the left, but the last two weeks revealed that the situation would be much more complicated and without a clear majority of the left.

Results

Parties elected to parliament:
CSSD (Social democrats): 20.5%, 50 seats (down six)
ANO 2011 (a new political formation): 18.7%, 47 seats
KSCM (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia): 14.9%, 33 seats (up seven)
TOP 09 (until now the ruling right-wing party): 12.0%, 26 seats (down 15)
ODS (until now a dominant right-wing, ruling party): 7.7%, 16 seats (down 37)
USVIT (a new political formation): 6.9%, 14 seats
KDU-CSL (Christian democrats): 6.8%, 14 seats

The turnout has been 59.5%, down from 63% at the last election.

Parties that did not reach the threshold to enter parliament:
SZ (Greens):3.2%
Pirate Party: 2.6%
SPOZ (a party close to the president, Miloš Zeman): 1.5%
DSSS (Workers Party, an extreme right-wing party): 0.9%

ANO (it means Yes) is a party that was founded by a Czech multimillionaire, owner of many enterprises in food and chemical industry. He bought one of the nationwide newspapers some months before election. The party program is very general and it is difficult to specify whether it is right or left. One of its slogans has been, “The state must be managed as a company!”

USVIT (Dawn of Direct Democracy) is a party that supports forms of direct democracy and a principle of a personal responsibility. It refuses to participate in direct governance and prefers an opposition role.

Short considerations about causes and aftermath:

  • This election was a result of the cleavage between different concepts of the neoliberal right groups, which caused the governmental crisis. This situation was combined with very low support for the right-wing government (only 25% of the population) and a long recession (more than one year), combined with an exaggerated austerity policy.
  • This election was not primarily about a left and right polarisation. It was a protest election mainly.
  • The Czech Social Democratic Party lost nearly 10% within six weeks, the worst result in the Czech history. Now there are two wings in this party – one supporting president Zeman and another independent to him. The party is not united, the fight between different groups increases and it is not possible to expect the tension will cool down soon. It is practically impossible to constitute a new government without the Social Democrats but their differences make negotiations about the new government unpredictable.
  • The party ANO is two years old. It is not easy to define this new political subject. It the second strongest party with the support of a very broad spectrum of citizens. It is also very difficult to predict its future. Some journalists and political scientists speak of a specific form of Berlusconi-style in the Czech Republic. Because people are disillusioned and some of them believe the solution may not be a traditional parliamentary democracy which is more and more only a formal one.
  • The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia is the only party (of the parties that had been in parliament the previous session) that gained (in 2010it won 11.27%). Its electoral campaign was relatively modest. This party is regarded as critical of capitalism. The typical anti-communism that usually precedes any election in the Czech Republic is less and less effective. The long-term political praxis of this party attempts to reflect the expectations of ordinary people. Therefore its campaign was critical of the neoliberal system and tried to present realistic solutions. Socialism is the long-term goal, but the middle-term goal is to kick-start the Czech economy, reduce unemployment and improve social security. The party gained 740,000 votes (the party has about 50,000 members). Only a certain part of the votes were protest votes. Very probably the KSCM will be in the opposition but it will be in a better political position to become a more relevant player in the Czech parliament and in the whole society. In opposition the KSCM will have to strengthen its role as a radical left to integrate different left streams and it will face new challenges.

Prognosis

Some days after the political earthquake in the Czech Republic it is practically impossible to predict future developments. It may be a new early election in May 2014 (together with the European election). But political parties know that it would be recognised as their debacle. There is no certainty that a new vote would bring parties the same gains.

So we can expect a relatively long (at least some weeks, maybe months) period of political instability, feverish negotiations and political restlessness. This can be a chance for the Czech radical left. But it also can weaken the left, if it does not reflect the political reality and the expectations of its electorate.

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