Czech Republic's electoral system
How does the Czech Republic's electoral system work? And who are the main contenders in October's elections? Find out in our useful guide.
Members of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech Parliament, are elected in 14 electoral districts using a proportional representation system. The electoral system came under dispute just nine months before this year’s election, after the Constitutional Court ruled in February against the use of the D’Hondt method for allocating seats. The Court acted on a complaint made by a group of senators, pointing out that the D’Hondt gave an unfair advantage to big parties. While that theoretically made it easier for election winners to form stable governing coalitions, it also distorted the proportional character of the vote and, according to the Court, violated the constitution.
The judges ordered Parliament to alter the allocation method so that the distribution of seats would correspond with parties’ vote shares more closely in this year’s election. Working on a shortened deadline, the lawmakers did so this spring. The new election law got rid of the D’Hondt method in favor of a two-stage allocation process, using the Imperiali and Hagenbach-Bischoff quotas. The new rules keep the division of Czechia into 14 electoral districts that mirror the country’s administrative regions.
Another factor distorting the proportionality of the vote is the great variations of populations between different electoral districts. The four most populous districts of Prague, Central Bohemia, South Moravia, and Moravia-Silesia are home to about half of Czech citizens. In practice, this means that in a small district, such as the Karlovy Vary Region, a party will often need over 10% of the vote to gain a seat in Parliament, whereas in larger districts a much smaller portion of the vote will suffice. Therefore, the votes of citizens in districts with less voters count for less in practical terms than those of their compatriots in more densely populated regions. A proposal to use one, country-wide district, as is done in neighboring Slovakia for example, did not pass in Parliament.
Elections in the Czech Republic traditionally start on a Friday at two in the afternoon and end at the same time the following day. This time frame, which is relatively unique in comparison with other countries, enables votes to be counted throughout Saturday afternoon, and the results are usually clear in the evening.
Parties to know in the upcoming election
The ANO political movement won the last election with 29.6% of the vote. It is headed by Andrej Babiš, the current prime minister and the third-wealthiest Czech. Babiš’s business interests are the subject of a range of controversies pertaining to the prime minister’s alleged conflict of interest with regard to European subsidies. Despite fierce criticism from the opposition, ANO remains highly popular in polls and is one of the favorites to win the elections. The current ANO-led minority government increased pensions and implemented large discounts for seniors and students on public transport. It has faced criticism for the fast growth of the budget deficit, which is nonetheless mainly connected to expenditures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Pirates and Mayors
This grouping is the electoral alliance between the Pirate Party and the Mayors & Independents (STAN). The Pirate Party is seen as the party of young, city-dwelling liberals. STAN, on the other hand, draws its support mainly from voters in smaller towns and is a more moderate generational counterpart to the Pirates. The coalition is one of the main challengers to ANO. In the spring it topped the polls but has since faced sharp criticism from the prime minister, who has in Parliament accused the Pirates of, among other things, wanting to force Czechs to house refugees in their apartments. The Pirate Party leadership declared the claim to be disingenuous and sued Babiš. Nonetheless, the Pirates and Mayors have since dropped below ANO in polling.
The Pirates and Mayors emphasize a pro-European Union foreign policy and the digitalization of the bureaucracy. The coalition’s candidate for prime minister is Pirate Party leader Ivan Bartoš.
SPOLU is an alliance of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), TOP 09, a smaller center-right outfit, and the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). ODS is the largest of the three parties and has, along with the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) been one of the pillars of Czech politics since the 1990s. The party has spent the last eight years recovering from a scarring defeat in the 2013 election, which took place after a corruption scandal brought down the government led by then ODS leader, Petr Nečas. Now the party is attempting a comeback to the top of Czech politics under Petr Fiala, a former university lecturer and SPOLU’s candidate for prime minister.
Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD)
The Social Democrats, who won elections and led governments in their most successful period from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, are now grappling with the possibility of not gaining any seats in the Chamber of Deputies for the first time since the Velvet Revolution. After winning just 7.3% of the vote in the last election in 2017, ČSSD became the junior coalition partner in ANO’s minority government. Its time in power has been accompanied by subpar results in communal, European, and Senate elections, as the party hemorrhaged supporters to ANO’s benefit. Polls indicate that most of the government’s supporters will once again back ANO. On the other hand, ČSSD will be hard pressed to gain votes from the government’s critics, who largely support the two opposition coalitions or smaller protest parties. The Social Democrats’ leader is Jan Hamáček, the current interior minister.
Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD)
The Freedom and Direct Democracy Party was founded in 2015 by Tomio Okamura, a businessman with Japanese roots. The party has a populist nationalist rhetoric similar to Alternative für Deutschland in Germany or Italy’s Northern League. Its main policy goals are a tough line on immigration and a Czech exit from the EU and NATO. SPD appeared to be strengthened by the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, with its support climbing as high as 10% in some polls.
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM)
KSČM is the ideological heir to the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ), which ruled over the country between 1948 and 1989. The party has retained a hard core of mainly older voters and has remained relevant after the Velvet Revolution with steady electoral gains averaging around 12-15%. But the Communists received an unusually bad result in the last election in 2017, dropping to 7.76% of the vote. Polls before this year’s elections show its support hovering around 5%. Like ČSSD, the Communists have lost supporters to ANO. Moreover, voters looking to cast a protest vote may be lured by the rhetoric of the SPD. Since 1989, KSČM has not officially been part of a government collation, but, unprecedentedly, the current minority government was formed thanks to the Communists’ consent. KSČM will be led into the election by Vojtěch Filip, who has been in charge of the party since 2005 and is the longest-serving leader of a major Czech political party since the 1989 Revolution.
Přísaha, meaning “The Oath”, is a new outfit on the Czech political scene. The movement was only founded in January 2021 by Robert Šlachta, a former high-ranking police officer who used to head a unit fighting organized crime. Eliminating corruption is the main program priority of Přísaha, and the party is otherwise impossible to place on a left-right ideological spectrum. The latest polls show Přísaha at just over the 5% mark necessary to gain seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Pundits predict that if it does enter Parliament, it may be the kingmaker that allows ANO to form another government. Šlachta has refused to say whether his grouping would be willing to form a coalition government with any other party. Nor is he likely to, as doing so could weaken Přísaha’s image as an uncompromised alternative to traditional parties.