Powerful Finance Minister Andrej Babis celebrated on October 8 as two days of voting showed his Ano party outgunned his rival, and coalition partner, the Social Democrats (CSSD) at Czech regional elections. The result is widely seen as a sign of things to come at general elections in a year’s time.
The centrist Ano won the most votes in nine of 13 regions across the country; the CSSD trooped in top in just two. The Christian Democrats, the smallest member of the three-party ruling coalition, won one of the remaining regions, as did an alliance of local mayors. Turnout fell to just 34.3%; a far higher participation rate would be expected at a general election.
While Ano won the most votes overall, the party still only managed to scoop around 21%. Although the CSSD slumped to just 15% or so, that still would not hand Babis a free hand to form a government should it be repeated at the national vote next October.
Despite differing agendas and almost constant sniping at one another, the parties have ruled in a surprisingly stable coalition since January 2014, thanks to the fact that neither has the support to break away from their marriage of convenience. However, Ano has led opinion polls throughout, and Babis has long been the apparent PM in waiting.
The man currently in the chair admitted that the regional results are a disappointment, but added that the CSSD will likely govern in coalition in the majority of the country’s regional assemblies, which control local provision of health, education and transport. Despite conceding that "it is clear people voted for change in the regions", Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka insisted he will remain leader of the CSSD and lead the party into the national vote.
Sobotka will defend his role as chairman at a party congress next spring, which will discuss changes that will make the CSSD "electable", according to CTK.
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