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Czech elections 2017: ANO wins big, SocDems down but not out, Pirates score gains as does hatemongering Okamura

22.10.2017 12:34
Andrej Babiš (PHOTO: David Sedlecký, Wikimedia Commons).
Andrej Babiš (PHOTO: David Sedlecký, Wikimedia Commons).

The hands-down winner of this year's elections to the Chamber of Deputies is the governing ANO movement of Andrej Babiš. Second place goes to the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) at 18 percentage points behind, the biggest discrepancy between the top two parties in the history of the Czech lower house.

Third place was scored by the Pirates, who will be represented in the lower house for the first time. Significant gains were also won by the "Freedom and Direct Democracy Movement" (SPD) of Tomio Okamura, while the elections were a debacle for what until now has been the strongest governing party, the Social Democrats (ČSSD).

Both the Christian Democrats and the Communists lost support. The 5 % threshold needed to win a seat in the lower house was narrowly passed by the Mayors and Independents (STAN) party and by TOP 09.

Candidates from nine groups will be seated in the lower house, the biggest number of separate entities there since the Czech Republic became an independent country. ANO received 29.64 % of the vote, which means it now holds 78 seats.

Second-place ODS won 11.32 % of the votes, earning 25 seats. The Pirates (10.79 %) and SPD (10.64 %) will get 22 seats each.

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) thanks to its 7.76 % of the vote, and ČSSD, thanks to its 7.27 % of the vote will have 15 seats each. The Christian Democrats got 5.8 % of the vote and 10 seats.

TOP 09, with 5.31 % of the votes, defended seven seats and STAN won six seats with its 5.18 % of the vote. While during the 2013 elections to the lower house voter turnout was 59.48 %, this time 60.84 % turned out.

ANO, after the 2013 elections, had 47 seats, which means they have now gained 31 more. ODS has won nine new seats in addition to their previous 16.

STAN added two more seats to the four it previously held as part of its previous alliance with TOP 09. The SPD previously had just two seats in the lower house, and now will have 20 more.

The Pirates fought their way into the Chamber of Deputies for the first time ever this year. The Social Democrats lost 35 of their 50 seats.

The KSČM will have 18 fewer seats this time, while TOP 09 will have 15 fewer. The Christian Democrats lost four seats.

In response to the announcement of the results, the first considerations about how the next Government will be composed have begun to appear. Czech President Miloš Zeman wants to begin consultations with the parties after the state holiday on 28 October.

Jaroslav Faltýnek, ANO's first vice-chair, is proposing that the movement primarily reach out to its existing coalition partners, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, with an offer of collaboration. However, ANO claims to want to discuss possible collaboration in government with all of the parties in the lower house on the basis of their program priorities.

The next Prime Minister, according to the ANO vice-chair, should be ANO chair Babiš. Of course, many potential coalition partners have already said it is unacceptable for them to govern together with people who have been charged with committing various crimes.

Both Babiš and Faltýnek are being investigated by the Czech Police over alleged susbidy fraud in the Čapí hnízdo ("Stork's Nest") scandal. The second-place Civic Democrats have said they will never collaborate with either ANO or the Communists.

The leader of the Pirates, Ivan Bartoš, has previously repeatedly ruled out collaborating with ANO because of the criminal prosecution of Babiš and Faltýnek, ruled out collaborating with the Communists, and ruled out collaborating with the SPD. Okamura reportedly anticipated that other parliamentary parties would begin knocking on his door to form a coalition during the television debates immediately following yesterdays' announcement of the election outcome.

For Okamura's movement the crucial question is whether he can now push for a referendum. Meanwhile, despite their electoral debacle, the leadership of the Social Democrats will apparently remain in place until the party's spring convention.

Current party chair Milan Chovanec said the party wants to analyze the causes of its failure. The Social Democrats are conditioning their discussions about entering government by whether their program intersects with those of the other parties.

ČSSD has previously said that they cannot imagine collaborating with politicians who have been charged with criminal behavior. The Communists are also disheartened - with not quite 8 % of the vote, they have achieved their worst result in Parliamentary elections since the party was founded in Czechoslovakia in 1921.

KSČM vice-chair Pavel Kováčik would neither reject nor rule out an opportunity for the party to support a minority Government led by the ANO movement. The Christian Democrats were another party anticipating a better result than they ultimately achieved.

Pavel Bělobrádek, chair of the Christian Democrats, said he does not intend to resign despite the lack of success. He is not ruling out negotiations with ANO, but said the party would never enter government with persons accused of crimes.

TOP 09 experienced an election-night drama with an eventually happy ending. Despite the enthusiasm of its campaign staff over the fact that they passed the 5 % threshold, politicians of the party have expressed disappointment as to why voters have mainly cast their ballots for anti-system parties such as ANO, or the Communists, or Okamura's movement.

Party chair Miroslav Kalousek has declared that it is now impossible to put together a democratic, pro-Western oriented majority government and that TOP 09 will remain in opposition. STAN is also counting on fulfilling an opposition role.

The outcome of the elections, according to Czech presidential candidate Jiří Drahoš, is the biggest political change in the country since 1989. The electoral results, in his view, must not be allowed to lead to a change in the basic orientation and values of the country.

ANO is, according to Czech presidential candidate Michal Horáček, an immeasurably strong electoral winner who may use its enormous power beneficially, but who also is in danger of becoming intoxicated by power. Some artists and other public figures have expressed surprise at the big success enjoyed by populism among those casting ballots for the lower house.

Some people have expressed concern that a loss of freedoms may now result from the outcome. The Green Party did not enter the Chamber of Deputies, winning less than 1.5 % of the vote and also losing their eligibility for a financial contribution from the state.

Green Party chair Matěj Stropnický has already announced that he is resigning. Other parties excluded from the Chamber of Deputies include the Citizens' Rights Party (Strana práv občanů), the Freedom Party (Svobodni) and the Realists (Realisté).

A total of 31 groups competed for votes. According to preliminary results, ballots cast abroad went especially to the Pirates and to TOP 09.

The outcomes from Czech voters abroad were reported at around 18:00 yesterday, coming from Australia, Oceania and Slovakia (where the Pirates got the most votes) as weill as from Africa, where TOP 09 was the biggest winner.

World press agencies also commented on the Czech election. Agence France-Presse reported on the clear electoral victory of the ANO movement of billionaire Andrej Babiš as the rise of a "Czech Donald Trump", while Reuters paused to review the inability of the governing Social Democrats to profit electorally from the country's current economic prosperity. The Associated Press, based in the United States, reported that the outcome has dealt a blow to traditional political parties.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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