The second round of elections to a third of the Senate over the weekend evoked scant public interest and resulted in a humiliating defeat for the two strongest parties in government – the Social Democrats and ANO. It was their junior partner in government –the Christian Democrats - who won the most seats, becoming the second strongest party in the upper chamber.
A record-low turn-out of just 15 percent in the second round of voting was seen as a defeat for all –parties across the political spectrum failed to get their supporters to come to the polls – with one notable exception: the Christian Democrats, the junior party in the ruling coalition, won five seats in the Senate on its own party ticket and successfully pushed through four other candidates on a joint ticket with other small parties and movements. Christian Democrat leader Pavel Bělobrádek was beaming as he faced the press.
“This is a big success. And it is the success of our selected candidates, because clearly this election was about personalities.”
Although, thanks to the success of the Christian Democrats, the ruling coalition managed to retain its majority in the upper chamber, the elections were a fiasco for the two stronger parties – ANO, which was anticipating certain victory following its triumph in last week’s regional elections, secured three seats out of 14 candidates and the prime minister’s Social Democrats, who took a beating at the hands of both its coalition partners, managed to defend just two seats out of 12. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said it was time for a serious debate:
“We now need to have a very open debate within the party on how we can improve our work for the public at the regional level and how to better “sell” what we have managed to do for people at the government level.”
While ANO leader Andrej Babiš blamed his party’s failure on the low election turn-out, even suggesting that the Senate should be scrapped as costly and obsolete, commentators note that the two strongest parties have much to learn from the often short-changed Christian Democrats when it comes to selecting candidates. Both parties made the mistake of running candidates far-removed from regional politics –current and former cabinet ministers, powerful business leaders, philosophers or sports people. Among those who were defeated were the well-known ballet dancer Vlastimil Harapes and the legendary Czech jockey Josef Vána. Those who won were either mayors or people active in local government.
Although the opposition had hoped to increase its presence in the upper chamber and ideally end the ruling coalitions’ majority in the upper house of Parliament, it too gave a relatively poor showing with the centre-right Civic Democrats winning three seats and TOP 09 securing two.
Many politicians argue the results would have been different had more voters come to the polls, with TOP 09 leader Miroslav Kalousek describing the low turn-out as a threat to democracy. Suggestions on what should be done abound – from Babis’ idea of scrapping the Senate to proposals that it should be given more powers. However with next year’s national elections on the horizon this debate is unlikely to come to any conclusion, as parties gear up for the ultimate challenge.