Current Affairs Weary voters go to polls for regional, Senate elections
The Czech Republic goes to the polls this weekend, with voters choosing members of the country’s regional assemblies as well as one third of the seats in the upper house, the Senate. Opinion polls suggest the parties of the centre-right government will receive something of a drubbing, whilst analysts are concerned at the prospect of an extreme right party winning a regional assembly seat for the first time.
The Czech Republic’s voters – wearied by almost weekly stories of high-level corruption and disenchanted with two decades of petty political in-fighting – go to the polls this weekend. Two days of balloting will be spread over Friday and Saturday, as voters elect regional assemblies in 13 of the country’s 14 regions – the exception being Prague – and cast their vote in the first round of Senate elections for a third of the Senate’s 81 seats.
A second round run-off for the Senate will be held in a week’s time for those constituencies where no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, which is expected to be the case for most of the 27 seats up for grabs.
The results have no direct consequences for the government, which is elected by the lower house of parliament, but the elections will be a key barometer of the country’s political atmosphere. The centre-right coalition has struggled to deliver on its promises of reform, and is deeply unpopular especially with the country’s poorer citizens.
The regional and Senate elections set government coalition parties against each other; the Civic Democrats and TOP09 in particular are rivals for the shrinking right-of-centre vote. The leftist opposition, meanwhile, is riding high in both national and regional polls – the opposition Social Democrats already control 13 of 14 regions and look likely to maintain most of them.
A terrible result for the Civic Democrat leader, prime minister Petr Nečas, could unleash a rebellion within his party and create fresh pressure for early elections – the ultimate prize coveted by the Social Democrats and Communists, who together command more than 50% of the popular vote in opinion polls. The Social Democrats have always dismissed the idea of a coalition government with the Communists on a national level, but they could form a minority cabinet with Communist support; a nightmare for those who fought to banish the totalitarian Communist regime in 1989 but virtually the only political configuration this country hasn’t experienced in the last two decades.
Observers are keeping a keen eye on the results of the regional elections for another reason; in a highly-charged political atmosphere opinion polls have suggested a handful of fringe parties could do well. In the depressed northern region of Ústí, the far-right Workers’ Party for Social Justice could pass the 5% threshold and elect a member to the regional assembly for the first time. The party’s predecessor, the Workers’ Party, was banned in 2010 for having links to neo-Nazi groups; its members have staged populist rallies in areas with high Roma populations.
A protest vote against established politicians could throw up other unexpected results too; the Pirate Party – which fights for freedom from intellectual copyright – is massively popular amongst university students, and could do well if they can mobilise the youth vote. However the elections will be marked by disillusionment, with turnout expected to be on the low side everywhere.