Czechs vote in regional and Senate elections

Photo: CTK

Polling stations opened in parts of the Czech Republic of Friday for voting in the regional and Senate elections. Voting is taking place in 13 of 14 of the country’s regions (the sole exception being the Czech capital) and in a third of seats to the upper house of Parliament.

Photo: CTK
To a degree regional and Senate elections are always a litmus test on the national government and this year is expected to be the same with one notable exception, the first test on the regional level of the relative political newcomers ANO. Looking at the map of 13 of the country’s 14 regions reveals dominance by their political partners in government, the Social Democrats in every regional coalition government with the exception of Usti. The billion crown question is how much ANO will gain at other parties’ expense. The communists have worked with the Social Democrats in eight regions for the last four years, while right-wing parties, in the opposition at the national level, barely registered, forming part of a coalition in just a single region, that of Karlovy Vary.

A whopping 270 parties and movements are registered in the regional elections while 233 candidates are seeking to fill 27 seats in the Senate. Of the candidates 19 senators are seeking re-election. The Social Democrats will also be seeking to retain a dominant voice in the Senate where they currently have 33 seats; in the past, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, the leader of the Social Democrats, said he would consider it a success if his party retained or still form the largest senators’ club and held on as senior partners in regional coalitions. Currently, the party has 11 governors out of the 13 regions being contested.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
The Social Democrats, of course, have a party leadership conference coming up later this year and party leader Bohuslav Sobotka said he intends to seek re-election as chairman, facing other potential candidates. How his party does this weekend (and in the case of the Senate elections, the next) could either weaken or strengthen his position.

The ANO Party, a newcomer on the regional playing field as many have noted, stands only to gain. They do have four senators, currently. Other parties which would certainly like to improve their position, include the third party in the ruling coalition, the Christian Democrats, who currently have three senators and share power locally in two regions: Pardubice and South Moravia. The Communists four years ago gained the second-largest number of mandates as well as leadership of the coalition in Usti. Over four years, they have frequently held strong positions in local governments with the Social Democrats.

A big question, also ahead of next year’s national election, is whether once dominant right-wing parties such as the Civic Democrats and TOP 09 – in the opposition nationally – can rebound and make an impact again. Worth noting are a number of changes: Czechs living abroad can vote for candidates to the Senate but not at missions abroad but must travel to the Czech Republic and obtain voter ID from their embassy. Foreigners living in the Czech Republic who are registered to vote can also do so.

The first round of voting to the Senate takes place on Friday and Saturday October 7 and 8 with the second round next weekend on October 14 and 15. Voting to the regions takes place just on this Friday and Saturday. The polls on Friday close at 10 pm, open again on Saturday at 8 am and close at 2 pm.