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Czech Senate elections won by "Mayors" party, xenophobic rhetoric scored no votes, owner of disinformation tabloid not reseated

11.10.2020 15:48
Voting in the Czech Republic. (PHOTO:  Romea.cz)
Voting in the Czech Republic. (PHOTO: Romea.cz)

The second round of voting for a third of the seats in the Czech Senate has delivered victory to the "Mayors and Independents" (Starostové a nezavislí - STAN) party who, in tandem with the "Mayors for the Liberec Region" (SLK) party won 11 out of 27 possible seats, and party chair Vít Rakušan said his movement is prepared to propose a candidate to lead the upper chamber. Five Senators were elected for the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and three for the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). 

The Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) did not defend a single one of the 10 seats that were up for grabs. The governing ANO movement was also weakened, holding on to just one of its two contested seats.

Just 16.74 % of the electorate turned out, the fourth-lowest turnout in the history of Senate contests. The Pirates and TOP 09 have doubled their upper house seats now.

The Pirates will seat both candidates who ran, while the TOP 09 party will seat four. Re-election was achieved by both second-round finalists running for the Senátor 21 movement. 

The Svobodní (Free Citizens' Party) and the Hradecký demokratický klub (Club of Democrats in Hradec Králové) each scored one new Senate seat. The strongest faction in the Senate is now STAN together with TOP 09, a total of 28 senators. 

"We hope that our club of senators and the Senate as a whole will continue to provide a counterweight to the governing majoirty, which has failed in recent months," the STAN chair said. He also confirmed that he would base his proposed candidate for a new president of the Senate on the opinion of the members of his club in the upper house. 

Whatever agreement is secured by the club in the upper chamber as to the nominee for that post, the STAN party leadership said they will not interfere with the decision. The weak Senate results for the ANO (Association of Dissatisfied Citizens - ANO) movement were reportedly not a surprise to Czech Prime Minister and ANO chair Andrej Babiš. 

The PM also said he hopes the Senate will not be a place of opposition that a priori rejects everything the Government proposes. "If there will be a change to the post of the Senate president, we hope it will be a person who will want to cooperate with the Government and not play politics," the PM said. 

The ČSSD, who are also in government, now have just three senators, which is not enough to even form their own club there. ČSSD chair and First Vice Prime Minister Jan Hamáček, who is also the Interior Minister, took the results as an unequivocal loss. 

"Our candidates did not cut corners on the campaign, but we know, unfortunately, that for our voters the Senate is not as important as it is to those who vote for the opposition," he said. Hamáček said he believed low turnout was among the factors impacting the result.

"We have a great challenge ahead of us in the form of the elections to the lower house, which will happen next year," the Social Democrat admitted. The KDU-ČSL, however, will hold on to their 12 members of the Senate.

Marian Jurečka, the Christian Democratic chair, called the outcome a crushing victory for all opposition parties. In his view the results send a message about how voters see the Government's actions. 

The Christian Democratic candidates did not meet their own expectations, though. The KDU-ČSL chair said he had hoped the party would manage to defend six Senate seats and they defended half that number. 

The fourth most numerous faction in the Senate should be the Club for Liberal Democracy-Senátor 21 plus the Pirates, with seven members total. The ANO club should have six members. 

The composition of the factions will also be affected by whether a representative of a smaller group decides to caucus with bigger factions during the post-election negotiations. The second round of voting delivered some notable defeats of incumbents: Miroslav Antl, the head of the Constitutional Law Committee in the upper house who originally was seated for the ČSSD and then joined the "For the Citizens" (Za občany) party, and who is known for speaking against Romani people, did not win re-election, nor did the billionaire owner of the disinformation tabloid "Parliamentary News" (Parlamentní listy), Ivo Valenta (for the Privateers - Soukromníky).

Two candidates attempted to play the anti-Romani or the xenophobia card during in the second round, but neither of them ended up winning their contest. Petr Bendl (ODS) was defeated by Adéla Šípová, a Pirate, and Jan Grois (ČSSD) was defeated by the TOP 09 candidate Tomáš Třetina, who is the Mayor of Moravský Krumlov. 

Former Public Defender of Rights Anna Šabatová, who was a dissident during communism, ran for the Greens but was not elected. Roman Kraus (ODS) defeated the former ombudswoman in the Brno-město precinct. 

This year the turnout was slightly higher than the Senate contest two years ago. The worst turnout for the Senate elections was in 2016, when just 15.38 % of the electorate cast ballots.
 

ryz, ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Election, Politics, Senát, Xenophobia



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