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25 November 2013, Gateway House

Landmark election for the Czech Republic

The recent elections in the Czech Republic resulted in no party winning a majority. However, two newly-formed parties have been elected to the lower house. As the parties try to form coalitions, Ambassador Jaromir Novotný blogs about the voting pattern and the significance of this election for the country

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After a disastrous seven-year rule of the coalition government of three right-wing parties in the Czech Republic, almost everyone expected an overwhelming victory of the left-wing parties in the premature legislative elections, held on October 25-26. However, even with a voter turnout at 59/48%, the Czechs surprised themselves again – reminiscent of the 2010 elections when the then new populist party, Public Affairs, was elected – producing a clear win for none.

In the Czech Republic, lower house of the parliament has a total of 200 mandates for the 14 constituencies in the country.

The two left-wing parties, the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and The Communist Party Of Bohemia and Moravia won 50 and 33 mandates respectively, putting the cumulative figure at 83 of the 200 mandates for the lower house.

Among the right-wing parties, the Civic Democratic Party won only 16 mandates while the Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09 Party won 26. The cumulative mandates obtained by the traditional right-wing parties therefore stands at 42.

The real victors are the new entrants, the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO 2011) who won 47 mandates and the populist, Dawn of Direct Democracy Party that won 14 mandates. This election also saw the return of the Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party to the lower house, after a three-year hiatus, with 14 mandates.

The Czech people have clearly expressed their dissatisfaction with the current political elite over their inability to resolve long-standing issues – such as unemployment, pension reforms and reforms to the healthcare system – that were the core subjects of discussions in the past three elections.

Of the two new parties elected to the lower house, the ANO 2011 is led by billionaire and entrepreneur Andrej Babiš, signalling the unmistakable entry of business into politics. This is ominous, as the electorate has failed to learn the lessons from the Italian example, where former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, also an entrepreneur, was accused of several economic and criminal offences, and convicted of one. The results of this election could hence serve as a final wake-up call to the Czech political elite to address pressing issues.

Following the announcement of the election results, the CSSD witnessed a bitter and fratricidal party uprising which stalled the negotiations for coalition-building by two weeks. This deadlock was finally broken when the CSSD leader and prime ministerial candidate Bohuslav Sobotka met ANO 2011’s Andrej Babiš on November 11, thus kicking off negotiations.

The election results will, however, have no influence on the Czech Republic’s foreign policy – in terms of its relationship with its immediate neighbours, the EU, or the NATO. The focus of attention during this election was exclusively on domestic problems.

The Czechs will have to wait for a few more weeks for a new government to be formed. The direction in which Czech domestic policy will head can be determined only after that. The caretaker government could govern till this year ends, if not longer. Whether or not we are heading towards another premature election can be determined only after the members of the coalition are announced.

Ambassador Jaromir Novotný  is a former Deputy Secretary of Defence, the Czech Republic, and a retired diplomat.

This blog was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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