Summary

  • Fragile coalition. While the formation of a minority government cannot be ruled out, a three-party right-wing coalition led by Petr Nečas is a more likely scenario. However, the stability of such a government would be extremely shaky due to the number of disagreements among the parties and the unpredictable nature of new political formations. At the same time, all sides are committed to a reduction of the budget deficit. Although the possibility of a grand coalition between Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) also emerged, such an outcome is highly unlikely.
  • Party system under transformation. Party structures in the countries of the region are undergoing fundamental structural change. In Hungary two parties that had played major roles in the regime change disappeared while two new formations won seats in parliament. Major changes are also expected in Slovakia following the June 12 general elections. As a result of the May 28-29 election held in the Czech Republic established political parties were replaced by two new ones, while major parties suffered major setbacks at the polls.
  • Fragmented shift to the right. While in 2006 the parties described as right- and left-wing won 100 mandates each, in 2010 that ratio changed to 118-82. In contrast to Hungary, instead of two, in the Czech Republic the dominance of the right is split among three parties. 

 

Party system under transformation

 

The secularization of the Czech society is demonstrated by the elimination of the Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People's Part (KDU-CSL) from the lower house of parliament, a party that appeared to have a permanent seat and much larger political clout than had been justified by its actual support base. The party had supported Mirek Topolanek's government and, after its defeat, it lent its support to the interim government led by Jan Fischer. The Green Party (SZ), fully amortized during the term of the Topolanek-cabinet, is leaving Parliament for the second time, in this case perhaps for good.

 

 

As for the new arrivals, Public Affairs (VV) resembles Hungarian Jobbik (also a newcomer to Parliament) primarily by dint of its rhetoric not lacking in racist overtones, its bizarre approach to public security (e.g., organizing street patrols in Prague) and its meteoric rise in politics. In a fundamental difference, however, in the Czech Republic some formations are even more extreme than VV; the openly anti-Roma and xenophobe Workers Party has been banned recently.

 

Clearly, the biggest winner of the election is Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09 (TOP09), established in 2009. With 16.7% of votes it came in ahead of traditionally third-place Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM). Closely resembling the other Hungarian newcomer, Politics Can Be Different (LMP), TOP09 has targeted an electorate deeply disillusioned with the political elite, which, however, turns its back on extremism. The similarity between the two parties is well demonstrated by the fact that both parties were registered in 2009, barely one year before the election.

 

It remains to be seen whether these new formations, with little identity at this point, can stand the test of time. For TOP09, built on the charisma of the former Foreign Minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, it is a major challenge whether it can maintain the support of disappointed urban protest voters, especially in the position of power. Schwarzenberg's party achieved its best results among this constituency; for instance, in Prague they won the number one position (27.27% of votes), while in other parts of the country their lowest showing barely reaches 10%. In contrast, operating with nationalist rhetoric and welfare chauvinism, VV's support base is evenly distributed in all corners of the country (see chart below).

 

 

Disappointment, shift to the right and fragmentation

 

Although there is evidence of a shift to the right in the Czech Republic as well, it is not on the scale seen in Hungary. While in 2006 the parties described as right- and left-wing won 100 mandates each, in 2010 this ratio changed to 118-82. More interestingly, currently there are no large parties in the Czech Republic: the five parties gaining seats in parliament received 10-23% of the votes, while in Hungary the winner collected 52.7% on its own. Since 2006 ODS lost almost half of their voters, while CSSD the one-third of theirs.

 

The malaise of Czech politics is well demonstrated when one considers that close to 40% of the votes were collected by previously non-Parliamentary parties. This far exceeds the rate in Hungary, even though there as well new formations received support at an unprecedented rate.

 

 

Forming of a government

 

As CSSD received the largest number of votes, it can form the largest parliamentary faction and the party is likely to be the first asked by president Václav Klaus to form a new government, even as the failure of such an attempt is a foregone conclusion. In short, despite their relative victory, the final outcome of the election represents a major defeat for the Social Democrats and party president Jiří Paroubek has already handed in his resignation.

 

 

The most likely scenario points to an ODS-TOP09-VV-coalition led by ODS prime-ministerial candidate, Petr Nečas. However the stability of such a formation is highly questionable. For one thing, the political credibility of TOP09 has been built mainly on the distance developed from the ODS-led government, and now they may be forced into a coalition. Moreover, as part of a governing coalition the behaviour of an unpredictable VV represents a risk not unlike the one Jan Slota's Slovak National Party (SNS) had posed in the previous term for Robert Fico in Slovakia.

 

For the time being markets have remained calm for, of all alternatives, last weekend’s election results are the least painful: most observers feared the repeat of a 100-100-seat deadlock, and based on pre-election surveys a CSSD-KSCM-majority was also a distinct possibility, with a grand coalition remaining the only other alternative. Both outcomes would have led to a looser fiscal policy, which means that the prospects of a three-party coalition pose fewer threats. However, the emergence of a three-party coalition cannot be taken for granted by any means. Following the first round of negotiations, VV held out the prospect of supporting the government from the outside. While the party promises to support a deficit reduction from that position, even with the end of the stalemate the future of any Czech government appears to be extremely tenuous.