Current Affairs Czech government parties take severe beating in regional and Senate elections
The opposition Social Democrats and Communists dominated the regional elections and the first round of voting to a third of the Senate held in the Czech Republic at the weekend. The senior government parties suffered huge losses as voters manifested dissatisfaction with the government’s austerity measures and its inability to curb corruption. But even the Social Democrats did worse than four years ago while the Communist party emerged as the real winner of the vote.
Leaders of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia beamed with satisfaction at a post-election news conference on Saturday. The party came in first in two of the 13 regions, winning 182 seats on the regional assemblies – 68 more than in the previous elections – and a total of 20.4 percent of the vote.
The Social Democrats were first on the line with over 23.5 percent of the vote, winning in nine regions. But they also felt voters’ discontent as they lost 75 seats in regional representations, and will in most cases have to work with the communists to form governments.
But their losses are marginal compared to those suffered by the parties in power. The Civic Democrats, the country’ strongest right-of centre party, only won some 12.2 percent of the overall vote, losing 72 seats in regional assemblies. Their only success came in the Plzeň region where they narrowly beat the Social Democrats.
But for the party leadership, the success is bittersweet – the Plzeň region ballot was headed by former justice minister Jiří Pospíšil whom Prime Minister and Civic Democrat chair Petr Nečas fired in June under an dubious pretext. Another coalition party, TOP 09, only won 19 regional seats while the third – LIDEM – did not run at all.
In the first round of voting for a third of the Senate, 23 Social Democrat candidates made it to the second round, followed by 12 Communists, 10 Civic Democrats and several independent candidates.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Saturday conceded defeat but said his party’s extremely poor showing at the polls would have no immediate effect on the party’s leadership.
“We have to reflect on the results of the elections, we cannot ignore them. We have a party congress coming up which is where these issues should be discussed.
“But I’d like to stress that the responsibility of the party’s national leadership is derived from the results of general elections. I don’t want to downplay the results of the regional and Senate elections but our responsibility is related to general elections.”
Mr Nečas observed that in every mid-term regional election, the parties in power inevitably suffered for their role in government. But commentator Jiří Pehe notes the extent of the coalition parties’ defeat cannot be entirely justified by what he called “Nečas’ rule”.
“On top of that, the Civic Democrat party will have to deal with a very unpleasant question: how come there is this very violation of this ‘Nečas’ rule’ about how the government parties are punished in these regional elections. This exception is the region of Western Bohemia.”
According to Jiří Pehe, the Civic Democrat victory there suggests the importance of the government’s anti-corruption record, or the lack thereof.
As Czech newspaper headlines on Monday raved about a “red threat”, the Civic Democrat and TOP 09 parties showed unmistakable signs of panic at the scope of their defeat. TOP 09 chair Karel Schwarzenberg said he had asked the architect of the government’s reforms, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, to temper their social impact.
But Prime Minister Petr Nečas will have to deal with a more difficult situation. Less than a month before the Civic Democrat congress, he faces growing opposition from within his party and some of his opponents have already called for a revision of the government’s policies.