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Elections: That’s on the menu

At the 2010 Czech legislative election five parties won a share of the 200 available seats in the national Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies. The Czech Social Democratic Party won the most seats, 56, which was well short of the 101 needed to form a majority. So the Civic Democratic Party, who were close behind winning 53 seats, formed a coalition with Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09, 41 seats, and Public Affairs who won 24 seats. The final party that won seats was the Communist Party Of Bohemia And Moravia with the other 26.

Since then there have been changes in popularity after various scandals, corruption and general instability, with quite a few new parties formed and hoping to win a share of the seats this time. Another coalition looks the likely result but rather than being right wing it’s predicted the Social Democrats may have to look to the Communists for support. Opinion polls aren’t always accurate though (as ČSSD found out in 2010) and with many Czech people left disenchanted by some of the big parties after recent events, other parties have never had a better chance to make an impact.

With at least twenty parties looking to win seats, it’s a hard slog looking through all their different policies. Quite a few overlap, especially when nearly every one mentions they are against corruption (which, until the past year would have been obvious anyway). From the main contenders to the bizarre, what follows is a breakdown of the parties Czech people will and won’t be voting for this weekend.

Led by Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) are again favourites to win the most votes thanks to the scandal involving their nearest rivals the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). ODS’s recent demise hasn’t led everyone over to ČSSD’s side though (with new parties providing many more options) so an outright victory is unlikely but they should be heading up whatever coalition the results bring. The party takes a centre-left position and claims to support freedom, solidarity, justice and the socially responsible development of the Czech Republic. They support the welfare state, healthcare for all regardless of income and are against senseless economic cuts.

The Civic Democratic Party (ODS), now led by Martin Kuba after former leader and Prime Minister Petr Nečas resigned in June, are the largest conservative party in the Czech Republic. However, opinion has unsurprisingly plummeted since allegations of corruption in summer, and though they won 20% of the vote in 2010 it is expected to be far less this time. Their ideologies include Euroscepticism and economic liberalism, with claims they do not propose any tax changes (although when in power from 2010 they increased VAT twice).

TOP 09 currently hold the third highest amount of seats but have also seen a dip in the opinion polls. They too are a centre-right party but only formed in 2009 ahead of the following year’s elections where they helped form the coalition with ODS and Public Affairs after gaining just under 17% of votes. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg has been and still is the party leader but TOP 09 were created by former Minister of Finance Miroslav Kalousek. The party are based on the idea of freedom and humanism, in favour of a free market and have been a member of the European People’s Party since February 2011, recognising the importance of the European Union.

The only former ruling party in post-communist Central Eastern Europe to not drop ‘communist’ from its name, the Communist Party Of Bohemia And Moravia (KSČM) did change their party program due to new laws introduced after the revolution. They were politically isolated which has ironically helped them recently as no-one would form a coalition with them so their image was not tarnished in the corruption allegations and governmental instability. However, the party has been accused of extremism, its youth organisation banned for four years from 2006 and calls for them to be outlawed. They still hold communist ideology but have moved closer to ČSSD with many turning back to the left with KSČM having their first serious chance of power since the revolution.

The only other party who won seats in 2010 and formed part of the coalition were Public Affairs, a fiscally conservative right wing group. They achieved just under 11% of the vote but as part of the failed coalition have also lost ground. While they are a centre-right party with many conservative policies they do have some centre-left members as they do not oppose immigration and are pro-EU.

There are two parties that majorly lost out in 2010, not reaching the 5% threshold required for representation and losing all their seats. The Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People's Party, lost 13 seats after then leader Miroslav Kalousek left to form Top 09. They are a central party most popular in the rural Catholic areas of Moravia and with older voters, which has seen their membership decline as they struggle to recruit new, younger people.

The Green Party lost their six seats too, having won them in 2006 for the first time since forming in 1990. Situated in the centre-left they are associated with the European Green Party and aim for an economically efficient yet socially sensitive society that is considerate of individuals and the environment.

Out of all the new parties to form since 2010 the most prominent appears to be ANO with thousands of posters up around the country. They formed in 2011 under Czech entrepreneur and billionaire Andrej Babiš who, as the second richest person in the country, has a lot of excess money to splash on the party’s campaign. It is a liberal/centre-right party aiming to clean the country from corruption (as they all do), abolish immunity and equity returns for politicians, reduce unemployment, and improve transport infrastructure. Opinion polls hint they should win some seats and could potentially form part of a new coalition, possibly as the highest voted party from the right.

In such an overcrowded market with at least ten parties having a chance of reaching the 5% threshold to gain seats, there are many more interesting and sometimes unbelievable options for voters. Dawn of Direct Democracy is another new conservative-liberal party started by Japanese-Czech entrepreneur Tomio Okamura, who was disqualified from running for Czech President after it turned out many of the signatories he had acquired were fakes. Then there’s Party of Civic Rights – Zeman's people, founded in 2009 by now President Miloš Zeman that has admitted taking money from Russian lobbyists.

The Czech Pirate Party too, who oppose conservative views and are mainly interested in information sharing, technology use, drug issues and a few policies on healthcare and education.  Koruna Česká (The Crown of Bohemia) is a Monarchist party with around 800 members that won a pathetic 0.07% of the vote in 2010 (presumably because they have no monarchy). There are also a few independents running and various other parties that will hope to make an impact.

Czech voters may appear spoilt for choice but with frustrations about recent instability, the inability to work effectively together and various corruption allegations, they’ll be hoping whoever emerges victorious won’t take the country back to the dark days of Czech politics...


by Graham Matthews