Czech Republic – the EU Parliamentary Elections.

Political Background

The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, as part of the 10 country expansion of that year.

An independent state since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1992, the Czech Republic was one of the most economically successful cold war-era economies. The Czech Republic has been something of a success story since the fall of communism, ranking at 17th in the Economist’s Democracy Index, just below the UK, and ahead of the United States. In 2006 it became the first former member of COMECON to be called a ‘developed country’ by the World Bank. It has the highest Human Development Index score for any country that was previously in the Soviet bloc (though the former Yugoslav state of Slovenia is higher). In the inequality-adjusted version of HDI it ranks ahead of the US, the UK, France and Belgium.

While most Central and Eastern European countries have seen fragmented party systems stabilise as democracy matures, the Czech Republic has seen the opposite, as more and more new parties proliferate as a result the Opposition Agreement of 1998 in which the centre-right Civic Democratic Party agreed to provide parliamentary support to a minority Social Democratic government. The agreement is often seen by voters as marking the beginning of a point in Czech history where Czech parties began sharing the spoils of power, betray the voters and to entrench collusion between big business and politicians in the politics of the country. This agreement created the conception that ‘they’re all the same’.

This is primarily due to corruption. The country ranks at joint 57th in the Corruption Perceptions Index, jointly with newest EU member state Croatia and Bahrain.

For instance, the right-wing and supposedly anti-corruption Public Affairs party turned out to reek of corruption after entering the government, with the party being funded through money laundering and other illegal activities. Its unofficial leader, Vit Barta was convicted of bribing his own MPs for loyalty.

A government minister from the Civic Democrats resigned after he was unable to account for the sudden appearance of almost 600,000 Euros in his mother’s bank account.

Worst of all, the Prime Minister, Petr Necas, seen as a dull ‘Mr. Clean’ figure, was embroiled in controversy when the police arrested nine people including Jana Nagyova, the PM’s chief of staff and alleged mistress. Nagyova was accused of using military intelligence for personal gain (including spying on Necas wife to prove that she was having an affair!) and bribery of MPs.

These recent events have resulted in the total destruction of the party system, and the 2013 legislative election saw the emergence of two new parties, a strong result for the Communist Party and the collapse of the Civic Democrats, previously the Czech Republic’s dominant party.

The country’s new President, Milos Zeman, has also been a source of controversy, with opponents accusing him of autocratic tendencies. After the collapse of the Necas government, Zeman appointed a caretaker government of his own allies, despite a centre-right majority for a new government. While the country headed to elections, he used his new government to pass out patronage and to fire sixty senior bureaucrats in an attempt to gain increased control over the machinery of government.

The Czech Republic is one of the most atheist countries in the world; according to the census more than 60% of the population are irreligious though there are still many who abide by the country’s traditional Catholicism.

The Czechs are generally considered to be a Eurosceptic bunch. The former long-term PM and President, Vaclav Klaus, was especially Eurosceptic, and was the last barrier to ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, refusing to sign it for 5 months after it passed parliament.

Electoral System

The Czechs will elect 21 MEPs, down from 22 in 2009. The Czechs use a semi-open list system to elect their MEPs. Parties present lists in order, with candidates generally getting seats normally in order. Voters have two preference votes which they can cast for up to two candidates on a party’s list. A candidate who gains more than 5% of the total votes of the party will be elected out of order.

Parties must pass a 5% threshold in order to qualify for seats.

2009 Election Result

Party European Political Party Votes Seats
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) European Conservatives and Reformists 31.5% 9
Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Socialists and Democrats 22.4% 7
Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) Party of the European Left 14.2% 4
Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-CSL) European People’s Party 7.6% 2

Other notable parties:

ANO 2011

Dawn of Direct Democracy (USVIT)

Tradition, Responsibility, Prosperity (TOP 09)

Likely results

The European election will be held in what is still, broadly, the new government’s honeymoon period. Polls have broadly not moved very much since the parliamentary election last year, though there has been something of a boost for ANO since the election. ANO and the CSSD are broadly competing for first place, with each likely to get 5 or 6 seats, which would actually be a small loss for the CSSD. The Communists are likely to keep their four seats, and TOP 09 are likely to win 3. Provided the ODS, USVIT and the KDU-CSL manage to pass the 5% threshold they are likely to be restricted to a single seat each.