Czech municipal election will test government popularity amid cost of living crisis

Czech municipal election will test government popularity amid cost of living crisis
Earlier this month a crowd of 70,000 attended a far-right mass rally demanding the cabinet’s resignation. / bne IntelliNews
By Albin Sybera September 23, 2022

Czechia is to hold municipal election this Friday and Saturday that will be the first nationwide test of how the deepening energy crisis has affected Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s popularity since his five-party coalition ousted the populist party of billionaire Andrej Babis last October.

Several nationwide polls have showed the two main opposition parties, Babis' centrist ANO and the far-right and anti-EU SPD of Tomio Okamura, ahead with 30% and nearly 15% respectively, while most of the ruling coalition parties would struggle even to make it back into parliament on their own.

27 of 81 Senate seats will also be contested, with a runoff between the two top candidates scheduled a week later on September 30 and October 1. Senators are elected for a six-year-term. The chamber has for often served as a check on  Babis and the country's leftwing populist President Milos Zeman

A major battle is seen in the capital where the Pirate-led coalition of Mayor Zdenek Hrib could be brought down by the possible coalition of ANO, together with ODS, the prime minister's rightwing party. Hrib leads a coalition with grassroots local party Praha Sobe (Praguers for themselves) and a centre-right bloc of TOP 09, Mayors and the Christian Democrats, which loosened the grip ODS and ANO municipal politicians have had on Prague for years, a rule  associated with mafia-style politics.

The leftwing Solidarita bloc of Social Democrats and Greens has warned against a possible post-election coalition of ANO and ODS in Prague. The two parties joined forces two years ago to push major tax cuts that weakened the Czech budget and the move has now come under criticism even from former ANO politicians such as former minister of finance Ivan Pilny.     

Most recently Prague politics has been rocked by the so-called “Dozimetr” affair which exposed a kickback scheme at the Prague Transportation Company and involved Mayors' politicians and sponsors. The scandal has also been linked to  politicians from other parties, including ANO’s parliamentary spokesperson Jana Mrackova Vildumetzova, who has since resigned, and TOP 09’s MEP and Prague leader Jiri Pospisil.

The affair has also led to cabinet reshuffles and resignations inside the Mayors party, and ANO instigated  a vote of no confidence over the appointment of Petr Mlejnek to head the foreign intelligence agency by Mayors Minister of Interior Vit Rakusan. Mlejnek, who had also been linked to the scandal's actors,  resigned just before the vote. 

The Dozimetr investigation began after a Praha Sobe politician contacted police. Its leader Jan Cizinsky recently said his party wants to see all Dozimetr actors cut off from influence in Prague. and this weekend will show which parties have been damaged by the scandal.

ANO and SPD have been using the energy crisis to accuse Fiala’s cabinet –  comprised of ODS, Christian Democrats, Mayors, TOP 09 and Pirates –  of doing too little and too late. Earlier this month a crowd of 70,000 attended a far-right mass rally demanding the cabinet’s resignation.

Two thirds of Czechs are likely to vote in municipal election according to a recent poll, and more than half of Czechs consider the Senate an “important part of our political system”. Senate elections have in the past struggled with low voter turnout, which has boosted liberal urban candidates at the expense of populist and far-right parties generally relying on a suburban or regional electorate.

One exception could be the rural Jihlava district, where Babis has poured resources into  campaigning to bring Jana Nagyova, former manager of his food, agriculture and chemical conglomerate Agrofert, into the Senate, and oust the incumbent Senate President Milos Vystrcil (ODS), who is running for a third Senate term.

Babis and Nagyova stand trial accused of fraudulently obtaining a €2mn EU subsidy, but it does not seem to have an effect on ANO's electoral base. If Nagyova is elected, she will gain immunity from prosecution.