The Social Democrats have come first in the Czech general elections, with some 20.5 percent of the vote. That result, however, is far weaker than expected, and the party will find it extremely difficult to form a viable government. More than 40 percent of voters, meanwhile, have backed anti-establishment and populist parties.
After seven years in opposition, the Social Democrats were hoping to capitalize on public discontent with previous austerity governments, after consistently leading the polls, which in some cases suggested they could take almost a third of the vote.
Such a result would have enabled to them to form a minority government backed by the Communist Party, which relies on relatively stable voter support.
But a large number of voters – over 920,000 of them – instead voted for ANO, a protest grouping founded by the Slovak-born multibillionaire Andrej Babiš. Running on strong anti-establishment sentiment and populist promises, the party won over 18.6 percent of the vote.
Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka expressed disappointment with his party’s showing but said they would still attempt to form a government. Meanwhile, his own position as party leader has been visibly weakened.
The Communist Party, in third place, won nearly 15 percent of the vote, followed by the conservative TOP 09, with some 12 percent. The leaders of the previous government, the centre-right Civic Democrats, took a severe beating, taking a mere 7.7 percent of the vote.
Another new addition to the lower house, Tomio Okamura’s populist new grouping Dawn, received 6.7 percent, while the Christian Democrats return to the Chamber of Deputies with 6.8 percent. The turnout reached nearly 60 percent, 3 percent less than in 2010.
The voting has produced a fragmented lower house, with no clear coalition in sight. Moreover, several party leaders have ruled out cooperation with one another; if they maintain their position, commentators say, it would be literally impossible to form even a minority government with sufficient backing.
Under the Czech Constitution, the president can pick a prime minister
designate of his own choice. Traditionally, this was always the head of the
party that topped the ballot. But Miloš Zeman has shown little respect for
tradition since becoming head of state, and much will depend on how he
chooses to proceed.