Czechs go to polls in local, Senate elections seen as referendum on leftist government

By bne IntelliNews October 10, 2014

Czechs are going to the polls on October 10-11 to elect mayors and members of local governing councils as well as to choose one-third of the seats in the upper house of parliament, the Senate. The elections are seen as a referendum on the centre-left government of PM Bohuslav Sobotka, in power for less than a year.

Eyes on CSSD, ANO

Sobotka’s Social Democrats (CSSD), which is the senior partner in the ruling three-party coalition, will be seeking to repeat its victory from the previous local elections held in 2010 when it won most of the votes and secured control over 13 of the 24 major cities. In the Senate, CSSD’s aim will be to keep its majority in the 81-seat chamber where it now has 44 seats. One-third of the Senate’s seats, 27, will be contested and of them CSSD controls 23. So in order not to lose its majority in the Senate, the party has to win at least 20 seats.

CSSD’s chances of succeeding will mainly depend on the performance of the centrist ANO movement of billionaire and now finance minister in Sobotka’s cabinet, Andrej Babis. ANO, which is a newcomer to the political scene, surprisingly ranked second in the October 2013 general elections trailing CSSD and won the European Parliament elections held in May 2014. The company is now a junior partner in the ruling coalition that also includes Christian Democrats. Opinion polls show ANO as the most popular party in the country and its leader Babis as the most trusted politician. Babis, however, does not seem to be putting too much effort on winning the elections saying what matters most is general elections: "This will be basically the third elections for our movement, it will be a new experience. We want to succeed in the local election but it is not of a key importance for us", Babis said. This is also why his movement is not running in all municipalities, especially in the smaller ones.

A strong election support for ANO would further strengthen the party’s leading position but even if the party does not score well it has nothing to lose but to gain. The situation with CSSD is much different given the fact that the party is in no position to repeat the 2010 success. Especially in the Senate elections where it has to defend 23 seats, something which even Sobotka admits is impossible. According to him a success would be to defend at least nine seats. It remains to be seen whether the election results will affect the relationship between the two main ruling parties, a scenario at least in the moment looking unlikely.

Other players

The other party that is expected to do well in this weekend’s elections is the far-left Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM). The Communists rank as the third most popular party in the country after ANO and CSSD.

On the right side of the political spectrum, Civic Democrats (ODS), will likely be the biggest loser in the local vote because it had seen its popularity slump since the previous 2010 elections mainly due to the unpopular austerity measures introduced by the government of its former leader Petr Necas that collapsed in mid-2013 amid a bribery and spying scandal. In the 2010 local elections ODS ranked second after CSSD but got the highest number of seats in town councils and assemblies. ODS suffered a crushing defeat in the October 2013 general elections winning just slightly over 7% of the votes.

The Battle for Prague

According to one of the few opinion polls regarding the outcome of municipal elections in the capital Prague, centrists TOP 09 has the biggest chance to win the vote garnering 29.5% of the ballots, narrowly followed by ANO with 29%. The poll, conducted by Median agency, showed CSSD coming in at third position winning 19% of the vote. Interest in the Prague elections is high with a record-high number of 31 groupings submitting candidates for the Prague assembly.

Local elections

Czech will be electing representatives in about 6,400 local authorities. A record-high 165 parties and movements are fielding 234,000 candidates for 60,000 seats on the local councils. Traditionally, the highest number of candidates for town and municipal representatives has been nominated by KSCM (17,187), followed by the Christian Democrats (16,478), CSSD (16,230) and ODS (11,450). The number of Civic Democrat candidates fell sharply compared with 18,288 in 2010. ANO has nominated 7,117 candidates and TOP 09 6,135 candidates.

Senate elections

Over the weekend Czechs will also vote to fill one-third of the seats in the Senate, which has the power to kill or seriously delay bills passed by the more influential lower house. The Senate has 81 members elected for a six-year term of office in single-member constituencies by the runoff voting system. Candidates who obtain an absolute majority of valid votes cast are elected in the first round. Otherwise, a runoff election is held between the top two candidates. In the second round, the candidate that obtains the largest number of votes is elected to office. One-third of the members of the Senate are elected every two years.

Turnout

This weekend’s elections will be the fourth time Czechs are going to the polls in less than two years after the presidential elections in January 2013, the snap vote in October 2013 and the EP elections in May 2014. Less than 20% of the Czechs bothered to go to cast their vote in the EP elections suggesting people are fed-up with politics. Turnout in the October 2013 snap vote was 59.9%. Turnout in the local elections is usually about one quarter than in the general elections and interest in the Senate elections is even lower.

 

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