Governing parties shore up support in Czech and Hungarian elections

By bne IntelliNews October 13, 2014

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Governing parties in the Czech Republic and Hungary shored up their positions in Senate and local elections over the weekend, although turnouts continued to fall. 

With votes still being counted from the October 10 and 11 elections, Czechs appear to have handed the governing coalition another majority in the Senate.  The Social Democrats (CSSD), Ano and Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) are set to win in 15 out of the 27 constituencies contested, which will mean the coalition retains control of the 81-seat upper house.

No candidates managed to win in the first round, so they will now contest a run-off in a week. The CSSD advanced to the second round in 19 constituencies. It needs to win all but one of those to retain a party majority in the Senate, but is favourite for just 10. Ano will contest nine wards, as will KDU-CSL.

That suggests the recovery in the economy this year has boosted support for the trio. It also suggests mainstream parties have managed to peg back the growing discontent against the political establishment that has dominated recently. That reflects polls over the last few weeks showing a return of trust amongst voters. At the same time, voter turnout was just 38.61%, even though turnout in the concurrent local elections was 44.46%.

That is important for the balance of the governing coalition. The growing support for Ano since last October's general election has strengthened the hand of billionaire and Finance Minister Andrej Babis, who set up the centrist party as an alternative, much like the protest parties currently popping up across Europe. 

Babis has been extending his personal power base through the year, and appears to be cooperating with the old political establishment - such as President Milos Zeman - in a fight against the current leadership of the CSSD. Another weak showing by the CSSD threatened to upset the coalition. 

"Contrary to expectations by some, this weekend's vote didn't turn out to be a referendum to prove that voters are unhappy with the work of our coalition," Prime Minister and CSSD head Bohuslav Sobotka told a news conference, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While Ano did not manage to impose itself in the Senate vote, its continued claim to be a party of reform meant it did well in the local election. The party won in half the country's 26 major cities, including Prague - where the campaign was led by a former head of Transparency International - to cement its status as a major political force, just a year after storming onto the scene at the last general election.

In contrast to the Senate election, at the local level voters showed they are still wary of the notoriously corrupt Czech political elite. Independent candidates gained over 40,000 posts on municipal councils - 3,000 more than in the previous elections. A record 165 parties and movements stood, fielding more than 230,000 candidates for 60,000 seats in local councils.

Meanwhile, in Hungary, the ruling Fidesz consolidated its power, as widely expected. The party won in 22 out of Hungary’s 23 major cities, as the leftwing opposition continues to struggle to put together any meaningful challenge. “With our success in the local elections, we have our third win,” while in Budapest “we have more than a two-thirds,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, according to MTI, after preliminary results were released on the evening of October 12. 

The far-right Jobbik  followed up its strong showing in April's general election to establish itself as the main point of opposition. It came second in 17 out of 19 counties and won in nine towns, up from three in 2010. Leader Gabor Vona said Jobbik will start preparing for government. While any role in government currently looks unlikely, Jobbik's role as the top challenger will help to push Fidesz further in a nationalist direction.

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