On Friday afternoon ballot boxes across the Czech Republic opened up for people to elect their municipal representatives. Furthermore, a third of the country’s regions are in the process of electing 27 new senators into the upper chamber of Parliament.
Over 216,000 candidates are running in the communal elections, meaning there are approximately three to four candidates contesting each seat on town and city councils, a slightly lower number than in the previous elections in 2014.
The polls are seen as a major test of strength for the ruling ANO party, which is defending its dominant position in many of the big towns and cities, and is facing a strong challenge from the Civic Democrats and the Pirates’ Party who are hoping to extend the political gains made in last year's national elections. Others are simply fighting for survival.
Some of the latter have opted to group together in order to avoid clashing against each other and to increase their chances of getting elected. One of these is the coalition called Spojené síly pro Prahu [United forces for Prague], which is made up of TOP 09, the Christian Democrats and the Mayors and Independents party, which has selected the TOP 09 party leader, Jiří Pospíšil, as its candidate for mayor.
The elections in the Czech capital, which Eurostat data ranks as the 7th richest region in Europe in terms of purchasing power, are dominated by questions related to housing and solving the traffic question.
While there are fewer candidates in this year’s communal elections, the number of citizens running for senator has increased since the last election in 2014. 236 candidates are running for 27 senatorial seats, with approximately nine contestants for one seat.
The senatorial line-up boasts some of the presidential candidates from the January elections. Jiří Drahoš, Pavel Fischer and Marek Hilšer are all running in Prague, although they are likely to come up against tough opposition, with opponents such as corruption-fighter, Libor Michálek, and former President Klaus’ political office chief, Ladislav Jakl, also running in their districts. A number of well-known, if controversial figures are also running outside Prague, among them the former prime minister, Jiří Paroubek, who is running in Ostrava and former health minister, David Rath, who is trying his luck in the district of Litoměřice.
The senatorial elections are seen as important, for they could shake up the ANO-Social Democrat coalition government’s power to push through legislation. The party defending most of the senate chairs is the Social Democratic Party, with 13 of its current senators running for re-election. Meanwhile the ANO movement, which is very strong in parliamentary and local elections, has only six senators so far. It will need to raise this number if it intends to solidify its role as a hegemon on the Czech political playing field.