Current Affairs Social Democrats triumph in senate elections, deepening government crisis
The second round of Senate elections over the weekend dealt another blow to the centre-right coalition government. The left-wing parties boosted their dominant position in the upper chamber even gaining a constitutional majority which bodes ill for government reforms as the three ruling parties now struggle to maintain a razor-sharp majority in the lower house.
As the results of the weekend elections came in, the Social Democrats had good reason to celebrate –their newly-secured 13 seats in the upper house gave them 46 senators altogether –the biggest representation any party had achieved in the Senate’s history. Moreover, unlike in the first round of senate and in regional elections they did not share the victory with the Communist Party, once again establishing themselves as the single strongest force on the left. This at a time when the governing centre-right coalition has seen its majority in the lower house shrink to 100 votes and is clearly struggling to survive. Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka vowed his party would not squander its election victory:
“These elections have resulted in a thumbs-down for the ruling coalition. Voters have made it clear they do not want the centre-right parties at the helm in regional government, nor do they want them in the Senate. I think it is a clear signal that people are unhappy with the government’s policy and that they want change. I want to assure you that the Social Democrats will do their utmost to trigger early elections as soon as possible.”
While the left’s dominant position in the Senate would under normal circumstances only slow down the government’s reforms, since the lower house could override its vetoes, the fact that the ruling parties are having a problem mustering a 101 vote majority in the lower chamber is a serious problem. All eyes are now on Prime Minister Petr Nečas whose party’s six rebel deputies have been blocking crucial reforms. Everything rests on him being able to restore party discipline and guarantee that all Civic Democrat deputies will vote as one man for the government’s proposed tax reforms later this week. The fact that some party members have proposed postponing the vote until after the Civic Democrats party conference starting November 2nd shows how uncertain the situation inside the party is. The embattled prime minister, who has linked his government’s future to the tax reform, is still hoping to ride out the storm:
“It is always the party’s top management and above all the party leader who is ultimately responsible for everything –good or bad –that happens in the Civic Democratic Party. But I believe that our problems are deeper rooted. If it were as simple as attaching the blame to one person then the solution would be easy –for the Civic Democrats to find a new chairman.”
This is precisely what some Civic Democrats have in mind and even the prime minister’s closest party allies admit he will have to put up a hard fight and effect radical changes if he is to have any hope of surviving in office. A meeting on Tuesday with the six rebel deputies in the hope of reaching a last-minute compromise will be a strong indicator of whether the Civic Democrat leader and with him the entire cabinet are heading for the rocks or whether the government will get a new lease on life. Even if it does, the left-wing parties in Parliament will not miss an opportunity to test the governing coalition’s shaky majority in the lower house over and over again.