Czech Regional Elections: The Age of Coalitions Is Upon Us

Polling Station (Flickr Creative Commons - Simon Clayson)
Simon Clayson via flickr || Creative Commons

On October 7 and 8, Czech voters elected members of regional assemblies. Negotiations are over, coalitions have been made, so it is a good time for an ex-post analysis. This article looks at the most important outcomes. Regional assemblies are elected proportionally; parties need at least 5% of the vote to get any seats. After the election, the assembly elects both regional governor and council by majority vote, which means that coalitions rule the regions. Since the election, coalitions have been formed in all regions so we can now look on its most important outcomes.

Coalition Formation – The ANO2011 Effect

Coalition talks have uncovered the Achilles heel of ANO2011 (the party of Czech billionaire Andrej Babiš): a very low coalition potential. Despite clearly wining the plurality vote, it has gained the post of the regional governor in only 5 out of 13 regions. This is not so surprising given that ANO2011 has tended to brand other politicians as thieves and scoundrels in the pre-election campaign, but it was greatly exploited by party’s Chairman Babiš, who repeatedly accused the other parties of cheating the voters and stealing those posts from ANO2011. According to him, the party “won the election” and old structures of political clientelism crowd his party colleagues out of the game. This explanation has been accepted by a large part of the society and ANO2011 receives now over 30% of support in most opinion polls. It should be noted, however, that even before the elections, polls for ANO2011 were close to 30%. Simply put, ANO2011 has a lot of supporters who do not usually vote. As such, ANO2011 has a smart goal for the next parliamentary election this year: to persuade their supporters to go vote.

Continuing Fragmentation

The party with the plurality of votes, ANO2011, has received just 21.05 % of all votes. The runner up, ČSSD, has received only 15.24% of votes. In comparison, the total percentage of election results for the two largest parties was 44% four years ago and 59% eight years ago. The Czech political environment is crumbling.

It should also be noted that only 4 parties1 have managed to win seats in every region, even some parties2 that have seats in the national parliament have decided to run in electoral coalitions, or not run at all in some regions. Also, there is at least one regional party in every assembly. In most assemblies there are at least 6 parties. Most polls forecast at least 8 parties in the next parliament. This will make coalition talks very difficult, indeed.

Rise of Mayors and Independents

Mayors and independents were (until recently) the regional wing of TOP09. However, with TOP09 constantly sinking in opinion polls, they have decided to cut their ties and run on their own. It should be noted that this is not a typical political party, but rather a loose confederation of various regional politicians. In some regions they run under the slogan of “Mayors for X region”, in others as a part of electoral coalition. The biggest success of this group was noticed in Liberecký region, where their local branch received 32.35% of the vote. Other parties have already extended offers for an electoral coalition to this group to the parliamentary election in 2017, the most serious proposal so far came from KDU-ČSL.

Downward Spiral of Traditional Left

Probably the biggest loser of this election was the communist party. It went from 20.5% to 10.54%, which is the worst result the party has recorded in a long time. Post-election analyses show that it has lost voters both to the anti-immigration parties and (quite surprisingly) to ANO2011. This only goes to show how different ANO2011 is from traditional parties. Simply put, KSČM has largely lost its voter niche as the protest party.

As for ČSSD, it has lost 8% of votes when compared to 4 years ago, and seems to be following in the footsteps of ODS. ČSSD suffers partly because it has lost credibility, partly because of weak leaders and also because of its internal problems. As it stands, the party is divided between western style progressives and old-school social democrats (who tend to be fairly conservative socially). As a reaction, ČSSD conducted a cabinet reshuffle – two ministers were replaced, but the reshuffle was handled poorly and it did nothing to improve popularity of the party.

ODS Lives Despite the Continuing Weakness of Traditional Right

ODS has received 9.47% of all votes. While this might seem a quite tragic result for a party that was once aiming for over 30% of the vote, the party seems to be stabilizing itself or even gaining some votes and it continues in a slightly increasing trend. This is not bad for a party that was doomed according to many observes. Moreover, in a political system where the biggest party has 20% of the vote, even 10% might result in considerable influence.

TOP09, on the other hand, is in dire straits. Bereft of its regional wing, the party has run on its own in only 9 out of 13 regions and its best result was 7.74% of the vote. The party Chairman, Kalousek, has been profiling himself as “anti-Babiš”, but this does not seem to work. Shortly after the election, the party has proposed a center-right electoral coalition in the parliamentary elections in 2017, but this proposal was not met with much interest by the other parties. As such, it remains to be seen whether the party will continue to be a relevant political force. In some recent opinion polls, the party has fallen under the 5% threshold.

Tomio Okamura: The Only Relevant Actor Amongst Anti-Immigration Parties

While several populist, nationalist and anti-EU parties have tried their luck, only Svoboda a přímá demokracie (Freedom and direct democracy), the current party of Tomio Okamura, has succeeded. In 11 out of 13 regions, they entered a rather strange electoral coalition with SPO, the leftist party supported by Miloš Zeman. This coalition has managed to gain enough votes to enter 9 assemblies, but only barely (its best result was 7.33% of the vote). It should be noted that since mainstream politicians in the Czech Republic have taken fairly hard line against accepting immigrants, there is little space for populists there. On the other hand, well-known parties have accepted this topic as a potentially dangerous one: the most pro-immigrant voice, Minister Dienstbier (ČSSD), was fired from the government and several politicians across the political specter have spoken against accepting any migrants.

1 ANO, ČSSD, KSČM and ODS

2 Most notably KDU-ČSL and TOP09

Michal Hejl
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