New parties ‘re-write’ Czech political map

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A coalition of three centre-right parties is set to form a government in the Czech Republic despite the Social Democrats having come first in general elections held on Saturday (29 May). Two of the parties are new political players, EURACTIV Czech Republic reports.

A "huge shake-up", "the most unexpected result", "rewriting the political map of the Czech Republic".

This is how the Czech media reacted after it had become clear that the victorious Social Democrats would most likely be unable to form a new government.

The centre-left Czech Social Democratic Party (?SSD) emerged victorious from the elections, winning 22.08% of the vote. But its final score was far below the 30% figure that pre-election polls had predicted it would win.

Social Democrat leader Ji?í Paroubek resigned almost immediately after the election results were made public, conceding that the country would be ruled by a centre-right coalition.

After Paroubek's resignation, deputy chairman Bohuslav Sobotka, who was charged with holding post-election talks with other political parties, said he did not believe he would succeed in putting together a coalition under ?SSD leadership.

"If we talk about who should be in charge of creating the next government, I think that it should be the one who is realistically able to do it. For us, the chance is pretty small," Sobotka said.

Unprecedented majority

At the same time, centre-right ODS leader Petr Ne?as, whose party secured 20.22% and 53 seats in the lower house, began talks with the centre-right party Public Affairs (VV: V?ci ve?ejné) and conservative group Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09 (TOP 09: Tradice Odpov?dnost Prosperita 09). Together, the three centre-right parties hold 118 seats in the 200-seat lower house.

TOP 09, a party founded in June 2009 by Miroslav Kalousek and headed by former foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg – who topped the electoral list – obtained 16.7% and 41 seats in the lower house.

Public Affairs (VV), a party founded in 2001 by Radek John, a journalist and writer, obtained 10.88% and 24 seats.

"These discussions, which for the moment are informal, confirmed the common will of our parties to work on this project," Ne?as said.

Should the three parties agree to form a government, it would hold the largest majority of any Czech government since the country's creation in 1993.

President Václav Klaus, who appoints the prime minister, invited all party leaders to separate meetings today (31 May).

Traditionally, the president asks the leader of the biggest party to lead talks on building a cabinet. However, this time Klaus might turn straight to Ne?as.

Societal changes

The Czech press writes that an important societal shift is taking place in the Czech Republic, as the two major traditional parties (ODS and ?SSD) lost a large number of voters, largely due to proven or unproven corruption scandals. 

Political commentators also argue that young people and social media might have had an influence not only on the overall result, but also on the composition of parliament.

Thanks to the preferential voting system, many incumbents – which people often accuse of non-transparent or even corrupt behaviour – did not win their seats. Among these was political heavyweight and ODS deputy chairman Ivan Langer.

Apparently, campaigners using Facebook and other social networks managed to give prominence to people in last position on party ballots, who normally would not have been able to succeed.

Last but not least, the Greek crisis played a role in the Czech elections, as the electorate mobilised against the prospect of more public spending and the possible contagion of the Greek debt crisis.

Ne?as campaigned on what proved to be a winning ticket. He said that he planned to reduce spending in ministries, crack down on welfare abuse, and take away unemployment benefits from jobless people who refuse to work or retrain.

A centre-right coalition would be the most welcome outcome for financial markets, because investors believe it would be the government best equipped to launch necessary reforms, Reuters reported.

Joseph Daul, chairman of the European People's Party group in the European Parliament, reacted to the Czech parliamentary election result by saying:

"I am disappointed that the Czech Christian Democrats (KDU-?SL) under the leadership of Cyril Svoboda did not enter the Czech Parliament. We've always valued the party for its European commitment and determination. However, the result of the elections can not be interpreted as the end of Christian Democratic policy in the Czech Republic."

KDU- ?SL is a Christian democratic party that obtained 7.2% of the vote and 13 out of 200 seats. In these elections, the support for KDU- ?SL dropped to 4.4% and it failed to pass the threshold to be represented in parliament.

"I welcome the fact that the parties of the centre right will most probably form the new government - after many months of instability. I expect the new Czech government to deliver realistic policies regarding the budget deficit and to carry out necessary reforms. The Czech voters behaved responsibly and did not believe unrealistic and reckless promises of the Socialists and unreformed communists," Daul concluded.

In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Since then, only three Czech political parties have held seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech parliament: the centre-right, conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS: Ob?anská demokratická strana), the centre-left Czech Social Democratic Party (?SSD: ?eská strana sociáln? demokratická) and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KS?M: Komunistická strana ?ech a Moravy).

In the European Parliament elections of June 2009, 22 MEPs from the Czech Republic were voted in. ODS won nine seats, ?SSD won seven, KS?M won four and the Christian Democrats (KDU–?SL) won two. However, turnout was one of the lowest in the EU-27 at just 28%.

Opinion polls had predicted that two new parties – centre-right Public Affairs (VV: V?ci ve?ejné) and conservative Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09 (TOP 09: Tradice Odpov?dnost Prosperita 09) – would win seats in parliament.

In the middle of the Czech EU Presidency last year, the ODS government of Mirek Topolánek lost a confidence vote in parliament and collapsed (EURACTIV 25/03/09). Jan Fischer, head of the statistical office, became prime minister in a caretaker cabinet.

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