Social Democratic Party left high and dry in Senate elections dominated by opposition Civic Democrats

15-11-2004

It was the result the ruling Social Democrats had feared the most: in the second round of elections to a third of the upper house of parliament, the Senate, they were stranded high and dry failing to win a single seat, while rivals, the right-of-centre Civic Democrats romped to victory. The opposition Civic Democrats now hold well over a third of the Senate, with enough clout to make it tough for the government to push through legislation. Following regional elections last week the results mark a 2nd major political defeat for Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, raising the question 'What will his Social Democrats do next'?

The leader of Civic Democrats Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTKThe leader of Civic Democrats Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK Leading up to the elections Stanislav Gross' Social Democrats spent millions on an extensive ad campaign and a series of pop concerts to try and rally voter support - but for two weeks in a row voter support fell markedly flat. If supporters of the Social Democrat Party were backing their party's aims they didn't show it by coming to the polls.

Low voter turn-out was symptomatic of the Senate elections as a whole: less than 19 percent of eligible voters showed up - the lowest amount in Czech election history.

First and foremost they gave their votes to the largest opposition party: the Civic Democrats who won 18 seats, followed by 3 seats for the Christian Democratic Party, and one seat apiece for remaining parties that included the Communists and the Freedom Union but also a newcomer: the Greens.

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTKStanislav Gross, photo: CTK How did the prime minister view the debacle?

He suggested it was perhaps time to consider abolishing the Upper House:

"I don't think we should do it now - that would be a cheap shot in light of the results. At the same time though I don't think that the Senate has really taken root the way was expected, more than 80 percent of the public doesn't feel the need to vote in Senate elections, and I think that it is just another thing that alienates people from politics."

That, however, is not an option entertained by most other major parties, especially those who gained in the elections. Christian Democrat leader Miroslav Kalousek said he was surprised by the prime minister's words, saying "one didn't abolish the playing field after losing the game". His words were echoed by his fellow Christian Democrat, foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, who also said such a proposal was out of the question.

Cyril Svoboda, photo: CTKCyril Svoboda, photo: CTK "We will always be against any opportunistic changes to the Constitution, reacting to election results. In short our system is founded on two chambers of Parliament and now is not the time for change."

One of the election's big losers is Senate chairman, Petr Pithart. After their huge gains at the weekend, the Civic Democrats are looking for his scalp, and would like to have their own person leading the Upper House, another blow to the government.

And what about the prime minister's Social Democrats? There will be yet another period of introspection, and almost desperate reflection on what to do next. Should they struggle on leading an ever weaker government, hamstringed by the opposition, or should they just give up and go for early elections?

Though neither is a favourable option for Stanislav Gross, it's not unlikely he'll have to consider both in the coming months.

15-11-2004

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