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An earthquake of an election in Czechia

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By Ladislav Zemánek.

Czechia – Parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic were held on Friday and Saturday. And they brought somewhat surprising results. We are witnessing a triumph of a man who is sometimes called Czech Trump or Czech Berlusconi. We are witnessing a historic debacle of the left. An earthquake of an elections came about.

A landslide victory was reached by the ANO (“Yes”), lead by a charismatic billionaire and former deputy PM and finance minister Andrej Babiš. His movement, which was founded in 2011 as a response to unsatisfactory policies conducted by “traditional” political parties, has presented itself as a protesting and dynamic force with anti-political ethos whose aim is to annihilate corruption and bring an end to allegedly corrupt establishment. Babiš, alongside with his movement, succeeded in convincing voters that they represent a real change despite the fact they have participated in the Czech government since the 2013 elections. According to last public opinion pools, ANO seemed to lose support which is simply explicable given stern “anti-Babiš” campaign from the part of other parties and some media and, first of all, despise a police charge regarding Babiš himself and the party vice-chairman Jaroslav Faltýnek for alleged EU subsidy fraud.

ANO is a Czech political hegemon and so can theoretically choose its coalition partners relatively freely. ANO won obtaining 29.64% of votes and 78 seats out of the 200-member Chamber of Deputies. Other eight parties managed to exceed 5-percent limit for entering the lower chamber which is a record number. The liberal-conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS) won 11.32% and 25 seats, thus strengthened its position in comparison with the last elections when it suffered a crushing defeat with only 7.72% (20.22% in 2010, 35.38% in 2006). Never before the gap between the election winner and the second party was so huge. ODS became the strongest right-wing party, being followed by the “Pirates” who entered the Parliament for the first time, moreover with surprisingly high gain (10.79% and 22 seats). They scored mainly in big cities and among young people who voted for pro-European, liberal, cosmopolitan policy. Their program priorities are improving education and promoting e-governance as well as people´s referendum.

The last one represents the cardinal program aim of the movement “Freedom and Direct Democracy” (SPD), lead by Tomio Okamura who owes his popularity to openly populist policy, attacking migrants, the EU and Islam. They set for holding a referendum on leaving the EU and speak about a complete outlaw of the so-called “Islamic ideology”. Okamura´s movement is a protest and anti-establishment one, based on leadership principle. Many of their opinions are considered to be scarcely acceptable. They obtained 10.64% and 22 seats. Nevertheless, if we compare it with populist or nationalist forces in other European countries, the results of their Czech counterparts are not so high.

The fifth position is taken by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) for which it is the worst result since the independent Czech Republic emerged as they gained 7.76% of the votes and 15 seats (14.91% in 2013). In the past, communists used to enjoy support of those who were dissatisfied with post-communist development, EU and NATO membership, etc. However, this time many such voters have been supposed to move to Babiš´ ANO. The same fate is being shared by social democrats (ČSSD) who won the last elections by obtaining 20.45%, whereas this weekend they have plummeted to mere 7.27% which stands for 15 seats. Since late 1990s and for the following decade, social democrats together with liberal-conservative ODS were the strongest political players, changing with each other on the position of Czech leading party. The fall of these two parties in the shadow of considerable rise of ANO is conceived as a decline of traditional democratic left- and right-wing parties and a metamorphosis of the Czech parliamentarism. Let´s recall the social democrats´ election results from the last years: aforementioned 20.45% in 2013, 22.08% in 2010, 32.32% in 2006, 30.20% in 2002, 32.31% in 1998 and 26.64% in 1996. ČSSD thus returned to the early 1990s situation when their support fluctuated around 7%.

The five-percent limit was also exceeded by another traditional party namely Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People´s Party (KDU-ČSL; 5.8% and 11 seats), as well by the liberal-conservative, strongly pro-European TOP09 (5.31% and 6 seats), whose support plunged significantly, and, finally, by a party called “Mayors and Independents” with liberal and pro-European orientation.

To sum up, these elections brought many surprises. And many other may be brought by post-election development. The president Miloš Zeman will likely to play an important role. It is probable that he will make use of the opportunity for strengthening his own position before upcoming presidential elections which will be held in January 2018. Nowadays, many politicians speak about a threat the Czech democracy is facing, warning against autocrat Babiš, nationalist Okamura, communists, and “Putin´s puppet” Zeman. It is true that under certain conditions political climate, constitutional order and foreign-policy orientation of the Czech Republic might change. Nevertheless, the probable future PM Andrej Babiš highlighted in his first post-election speech that his position is pro-European and pro-NATO. It seems then that only those democrats who refuse to cooperate with ANO referring to Babiš´ police charge and autocrat manners could drive him into hands of Okamura´s populists and communists, thus causing a situation they were so strongly warning against.

The Czech political scene has become extremely fragmented which does not attest a stable and developed parliamentary democracy. There are many variables, many unpredictable political players and many possible scenarios, ranging from continuation of the incumbent government (ANO, ČSSD and KDU-ČSL) to altering constitutional regime. One thing is for sure – the first session of the newly elected lower chamber will be summoned within 30 days after the elections.