The Czech Republic’s chances of assuming the EU Presidency with a caretaker cabinet in January 2009 are increasing after the leftist opposition’s landslide victory in regional elections over the weekend.
The regional polls held on 17 and 18 October saw the opposition CSSD (Czech Social Democratic Party) of former Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek triumphant, beating the ruling Civic Democrats (ODS) in all 13 regions.
In the previous ballot, incumbent Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s ODS had won 12 regions.
The polls are also expected to mark a shift in the Czech Senate, since one third of the upper chamber’s 81 seats will be redistributed following the election. Until now, the Civic Democrats held a thin majority of 41 seats. Only one candidate in the race for the 27 seats reached the required 59% threshold in the weekend’s elections. The remaining 26 seats face a runoff later this week, with the Social Democrats well on course for victory.
The elections are expected to have a deep impact on Czech external and European policy. The Social Democrats had campaigned against installing US missile defence radars in the Czech Republic, a plan which now appears to be up in the air. The Social Democrats are seen as more eager to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, which now is under scrutiny by the Czech Constitutional Court after being questioned by eurosceptic ODS senators (EURACTIV 01/09/08).
Paroubek called on his rival to step down voluntarily. He said that Topolanek’s government, which also comprises the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Greens (SZ), should be replaced by a caretaker cabinet, with the aim of leading the country through its EU presidency in the first half of 2009.
This caretaker cabinet should rule until the June 2009 European elections, to be held simultaneously with early parliamentary elections, the leader of the opposition advised.