This article was published online by the China-CEE Institute on 18 October 2021.
Czechia – A regular election for the Chamber of Deputies, the lower chamber of the Czech Parliament, was held on October 8–9. The results are interesting for several reasons. The Prime Minister´s movement lost its dominance, being defeated by a right-wing opposition coalition. The difference between these two actors was the narrowest ever (0.67 per cent). Traditional left-wing parties – the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party – suffered a crushing defeat, gaining no mandates for the first time in history. Besides this the Pirate Party, which was expected to take the office of Prime Minister a few months ago, lost 18 seats. The election was also atypical for its relatively high voter turnout (the highest since 1998) and for having the largest number of votes for the losing candidates. Altogether, virtually 48 per cent of citizens did not win the political representative of their choosing.
The October parliamentary election has brought several unexpected results and unprecedented phenomena. Despite recent predictions, the opposition succeeded, gaining a majority of seats in the lower chamber. The difference between the former so-called democratic opposition and the Prime Minister’s ANO movement, which has been a hegemonic political force in recent years, is big. The 2021 election will therefore probably result in a completely different government coalition. This will also be the case because the two other left-wing parties that were either de iure or de facto members of the ruling coalition between 2017 and 2021 failed, and lost all their mandates in the Chamber of Deputies.
Shortcomings of the electoral system
The lower chamber is going to be composed of four actors: the ANO movement (72 seats), the SPOLU (71 seats), the PirSTAN (37 seats), and the SPD (20 seats). At first glance, it may seem a more transparent, constructive, and stable composition, since only four actors have won mandates. Certainly, it would be a positive move forward, as the Chamber of Deputies thus far has suffered from excessive fragmentation, undermining the stability of governance. It is typical of the Czech system that the government is formed by at least three actors,which hardly makes effective governance possible. Compromises have become the essential feature and conditio sine qua non of political life, leading to the public’s long-term dissatisfaction as well as that of the politicians themselves. The point is that no party is able to fulfil its programme, because they are forced to make substantial concessions to other political actors needed for the very establishment of the government. This reasoning is not aimed against the democratic or parliamentary system, but to shed light on one of the most serious problems of Czech post-socialist politics. There are tools and methods for making the system more stable and beneficial for the people, as in for instance weakening the electoral system’s proportional representation principle in favour of plurality voting.
Table 1: Results of the election – Source: Czech Statistical Office, volby.cz
Such considerations could find positive responses among the public, as indicated by recent developments and electoral behaviour. An unexpected number of voters supported the SPOLU (which means „Together“). It is not a single party but a coalition made up of three individual parties: the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People´s Party (KDU-ČSL), and TOP 09. The grouping is a centre-right, liberal formation with some conservative characteristics, and is explicitly Western-oriented. They succeeded in particular because their political representatives had managed to unite, thus overcoming the above-mentioned fragmentation. An analogous tactic was adopted by the PirSTAN, another coalition constituted by the Pirate Party and the Mayors and Independents (STAN), a liberal, progressivist political force with extreme stances in foreign policy. The final synergy of the second coalition is, nevertheless, somewhat doubtful, since the Pirates as the initial leader began to lose support, while the Mayors and Independents were gradually strengthening. This tendency, deepened by a sharp public campaign against the Pirates, who were depicted as new leftist revolutionaries, resulted in a considerable defeat for the Pirate Party. The coalition obtained 37 mandates, but a mere 4 of them were won by the Pirate candidates. This was enabled by the fact that it was possible to choose up to 5 candidates on the electoral list, who were then given priority within the vote-counting process.
The tendency towards forming broader coalitions found echoes among minor parties as well. The sovereigntist, national-conservative, right-wing Tricolour Movement, supported by former President Václav Klaus, agreed on close cooperation with the Free Citizens´ Party and the Freeholder Party. This bloc did not succeed, however, gaining 2.76 per cent of the votes. The question is how the individual members of both coalitions will be cooperating in the lower chamber and a potential government, and whether they will keep the joint organisational structures or tend to merge. The latter would be transparent and beneficial in terms of the long-term development of the Czech political and electoral system. The existence and candidature of dozens of parties or movements belong to the worst maladies of post-1989 political life.
Citizens without representation
This fact leads not only to high fragmentation and instability in the system and governance, but also to a high number of wasted votes. The voter turnout was 65.43 per cent this year, amounting to 5,414,637 votes out of 8,275,752 in total. It is one of the highest turnouts in the history of contemporary parliamentarism. The table below shows the turnout in the Chamber of Deputiesʼ elections since the establishment of the Czech Republic.
Undoubtedly, it is a positive signal. At the same time, however, the successful actors gained only 80.09 per cent of the votes, which is a historic minimum – together with the results from2010 (see the following table, in which the percentage expresses the share of valid votes cast in favour of the elected actors):
It means that a record number of citizens and their interests will not be represented in the lower chamber. To put it concretely, 1,069,359 citizens had voted for actors that gained no seats. Moreover, there are 39,547 voters whose ballots were invalid, and another 2,861,115 citizens who abstained from participating in the election altogether. Conversely,4,305,731 adult citizens will get their political representatives, while the remaining 3,970,021 (i.e. 47.97 per cent) will not. This poses a serious problem in terms of the existing liberal democratic regime’s legitimacy. Even if we take into consideration only those who voted for unsuccessful actors, many people are sceptical about liberal democracy and its ideology, values, rules, and institutions, as well as about the Western orientation of our country and the current state of European integration. Never before has it happened that several relatively strong minor actors ended up gaining more than 100,000 votes. In this election, the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), the oldest Czech political party,founded in 1878, suffered a historic defeat,obtaining only 4.65 per cent of the votes. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) experienced the same results in a year marking the centenary of the party’s establishment in 1921. The Communists got 3.6 per cent. A recently-founded movement, Přísaha („Oath“), has presented itself as a populist catch-all party focusing on the fight against corruption and the introduction of law and order. After only a few months of existence, the movement gained 4.68 per cent. The aforementioned anti-EU coalition led by the Tricolour Movement obtained 2.76 per cent, while the radical sovereigntist Volný blok („Free bloc“) – 1.33 per cent.
The aim of this analysis is not to describe the election’s marginal features, but to point to the fact that the strongest among the unsuccessful actors represent predominantly critical, more or less radical citizens opposing the long-term status quo. If we count up these votes together with the SPDʼs, it amounts to 26.58 per cent. The critical, anti-establishment segment of society is substantially under-represented. This state of affairs cannot be changed swiftly. Nevertheless, it clearly shows that the potential for an alternative, sovereignist policy is enormous. The results of the October election do not therefore reflect the actual attitudes, sentiments, and interests of Czech society. It is rather caused by the fragmentation of the political actors: rivalry and clashes of particular interests between individual political actors; a shortage of talented, ambitious leaders; and last but not least, the overall setting of the electoral system. It will be worth noting whether integration projects will be ongoing to make use of the existing potential.
The October parliamentary election is over, but it is only a beginning. The former Chamber of Deputies is to be dissolved and Andrej Babiš´ government is to resign. Concurrently, the first rounds of negotiations fora new cabinet have already started. Given the number of the individual actors‘ deputies in the lower chamber, the coalitions are supposed to form a government in the following weeks or months. However, it is President Miloš Zeman who will charge someone with putting together a cabinet. The situation has become even more complicated due to the President´s illness and disability. It is therefore likely that the post-election processes will be protracted, not excluding the possibility that Miloš Zeman will put forward different solutions to this hot political situation.
 See Zemánek, L. One Month before the Election: Recent Development & Foreign Policy Agenda (2021, September 15), china-cee.eu. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://china-cee.eu/2021/09/15/czech-republic-political-briefing-one-month-before-the-election-recent-development-foreign-policy-agenda/.
 Compare this with the domestic political developments in spring: Zemánek, L. Rise of the „New Left“ and a Conservative Reaction: New Constellation (2021, April 12), china-cee.eu. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://china-cee.eu/2021/04/12/czech-republic-political-briefing-rise-of-the-new-left-and-a-conservative-reaction-new-constellation/.
 Přes milion hlasů propadlo, letos jich bylo rekordně mnoho (2021, October 10), echo24.cz. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://echo24.cz/a/SYTQ6/pres-milion-hlasu-propadlo-letos-jich-bylo-rekordne-mnoho.