Election Results: Social Democrats delighted, disappointment for the right

Social Democrats, photo: CTK

The election results are out. The ruling Social Democratic Party has won, with 70 of the 200 seats in parliament and 30.20% of the vote. They are followed by Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democrats, with 24.47%, the party which had led in most opinion polls leading up to the election. Much to the surprise of many, the Communist Party has come a solid third, with over 18.51% of the vote, one of the big shocks of the election. The right-of-centre Coalition has won only 14.27% of votes, a disappointment for its members, but just enough to give the victorious Social Democrats the slimmest of parliamentary majorities, should they join forces with the Coalition. No other parties came close to the 5% threshold needed to enter parliament.

Social Democrats,  photo: CTK
Radio Prague went to the leading parties' headquarters to witness celebration - and in some cases - defeat. We also called New York to see how Czech nationals cast their vote abroad, in the first ever parliamentary elections that allowed Czech citizens living outside the country to vote.

Leading figures from the main parties react to the results.

To get a feel of how the various parties viewed the results as they were coming in, Radio Prague spoke to some senior party figures, starting with Social Democrat spokesman Libor Roucek. Was he satisfied with the outcome of the elections?

Libor Roucek:"What the exit polls show and the preliminary results, it looks pretty good."

Radio Prague: Why do you think it is that the party did better than the polls suggested?

LR:"I think that people acknowledged the work of the government, that they are better off than two or three years ago. The voters acknowledge that the Social Democrats are working hard and should have the credit and the opportunity to continue in their work."

RP: Until a few weeks ago the ODS (Civic Democrats) were leading in the polls. Do you think they went too far with populist slogans and that kind of thing?

LR:"I think there's one explanation. The ODS had too many populist slogans - whether the Sudeten German issue or "stop the socialists", fifteen percent income tax and so on. So, there were too many populist slogans and I think the population, living in a democracy, wouldn't listen to those slogans any more. Then also people are tired of the ODS in general and of Mr Klaus in particular."

RP: Would you say it was a referendum about Mr Klaus?

LR:"I would say it was a referendum about Mr Klaus. It will be interesting what the ODS in general and Mr Klaus in particular will do, whether he will pack his bags and go."

RP: Do you think the departure of Mr Zeman helped your party in these elections?

LR:"I wouldn't say so, because if we compare the results of 1998 and 2002 we can see similar results. The Social Democratic Party is more than just Mr Zeman. What the Social Democratic Party achieved is a transition, while being in the government. So I think it's a pretty good result for us."

Libor Roucek was talking their to RP's Ian Willoughby. Ian also spoke to Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart, and asked him if he was pleased with the results.

Milos Kuzvart:"I am very satisfied. For me personally it's something like a milestone for us, for members of the Czech Social Democrat Party."

Radio Prague: Are you surprised at all how well you did?

MK:"I am not surprised with this."

RP: Why do you think the ODS did so badly after they had been leading in the polls for many months?

MK:"I think that for the ODS it's something like a miracle in reverse."

RP: Do you think that the fact that Milos Zeman is leaving as Prime Minister helped your party?

MK:"This situation is also based on the politics of our party, of our government in the last four years."

RP: But my point is, did the fact that Mr Zeman is going, did it make you more appealing?

MK:"I am absolutely not sure about it."

The major losers in the elections were the Civic Democrats, led by Vaclav Klaus. Was Finance Minister Jiri Rusnok surprised at how badly the Social Democrats main rivals had done?

Jiri Rusnok:"I am slightly shocked that they reached so low level of preferences. My expectation was that they would be able to get more or less 30%."

Radio Prague: Where do you think they went wrong?

JR:"I think their big mistake was to present the ODS as the party of Vaclav Klaus, only one person, because, you know, Vaclav Klaus is present here on the political scene for twelve years and of course if you are twelve years in politics for different reasons you have a very difficult position. They rely, in my opinion, too much on one person, Vaclav Klaus."

RP: And what about the future? Is "Koalice", the Coalition [of two centre-right opposition parties] the only possible future partner for you?

JR:"I think we should wait for the final results. It's still possible to find different arrangements, different solutions for the next government. A government with the "Coalition" is the more likely, because of our programmes and so on."

RP: Earlier I heard Mr Spidla [the Social Democrat leader] say that the Communists should not be completely ruled out, that they're part of the political spectrum. Do you think he would consider a coalition with them, or was he only strengthening his hand for future talks with the "Coalition"?

JR: "I think the second option is much more probable."

RP: Could you accept being part of a government with the Communists?

JR:"It would be for me very difficult, because they don't have realistic solutions for all the problems which this country faces."

RP: But they did better in this election than in the last election.

JR:" Yes, it's true."

RP: All their supporters haven't died yet.

JR:"Of course. I do not underestimate the importance of the Communist Party, but it's very easy to get the votes of unsatisfied people only by criticising. But they didn't present any positive solutions in my opinion."

So Finance Minister Jiri Rusnok doesn't like the idea of a coalition with the Communists. However, such a coalition cannot be completely ruled out. Another possibility would be that the Communist Party would support a minority Social Democrat government. Miloslav Ransdorf is deputy chairman of the Communist Party.

Radio Prague: Do you think your party would be willing to support the Social Democrats as a minority government?

Miloslav Ransdorf:"Mr Spidla, the deputy Prime Minister, said that he's not willing to negotiate with us, but I am persuaded that after these poor results of the "Coalition", he will be forced to negotiate with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. If not, his position in the government would be very weak, and unstable."

RP: Would you accept only supporting a minority Social Democrat government or would you insist on being in a coalition?

MR:"It is now very soon to speak about the arrangement after the elections. It is a time to negotiate, to speak about the programme platforms, about, we can say, possible relations between individual parties, but next week we will have more information about this possible arrangement for next years."

Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
It's clearly a heavy defeat for Mr Klaus's Civic Democrats, so where does the party itself think it went wrong? Mr Klaus appeared before a mass of TV cameras on Saturday evening to concede defeat, but said democracy was the real loser in these elections. The only victors, he said, were the Communists. Echoing his words was Ivan Langer, the Civic Democrats' deputy chairman, who spoke to my colleague Rob Cameron.

Ivan Langer:"I think it's clear right now that the winner of these elections are the Social Democrats, but unfortunately also the Communists."

Radio Prague: And look at the future, what do you think are you chances of playing a part in the next coalition government of the Czech Republic?

IL:"I don't know, because now we are counting each mandate, each chair in the Chamber of Deputies, so it's very difficult right now to see what the new government will look like."

RP: Some have said that the problem with the Civic Democrat campaign was that it focused too much on the personality of Vaclav Klaus and perhaps suggesting that Czech people are getting rather sick of him, seeing him everywhere in the papers, on billboards and so on. Do you think there's any truth in that?

IL:" Well, I don't think so so strongly. I think that we did a good job during the first half of this year, when we presented ten points of our programme. The final campaign was based on our chairman but I don't think it was a big mistake."

RP: Do you think it could be time for Mr Klaus to retire from politics now or at least give up the chair of the Civic Democrats to someone else?

Ivan Langer,  photo: CTK
IL:"Well, it's up to his personal decision."

RP: Do you have any ambitions for that post?

IL:"I think I have also to find my responsibility as vice-chairman. I have been working almost five years as vice-chairman so I am also responsible for the result. So I also have such a decision in front of me." And as you've heard, neither was it a good day for the right-of-centre Coalition grouping, made up of the centrist Christian Democrats and the liberal Freedom Union. Karel Kuehnl is the deputy chairman of the Freedom Union - he conceded that the Coalition had not done well.

Radio Prague: We're just getting the initial exit polls in now. What's your feeling about the Coalition's performance.

Karel Kuehnl:" This is certainly not a success measured by the preferences from December last year. It is a relative success measured by the opinion polls published last week. The positive message is that we are able to form a majority government with at least one democratic partner, and of course the negative message for us is that we have expected to get a bit more. Nevertheless of course we thank all the voters who voted for us."

RP: Nonetheless, the Communist Party does seem to have pushed you into fourth place. This really is a bad result for the Coalition isn't it?

KK:"When all the votes are counted, then we can make judgments of course. If the Communist Party is third in the end, that is a bad message for the whole republic, not for the Coalition only. Twelve years after the Velvet Revolution with a strong democratic left wing party, the Social Democrats, 15 or 20 percent for the Communists is not a good sign, and I think it is the result of the behaviour of at least some democratic parties during the last four years."

RP: And just one last question. Not a good day either for the Civic Democratic Party of Mr Klaus. Would you expect Mr Klaus now to withdraw from politics, to retire, seeing as there doesn't appear to be any room for him in the government of the next four years?

KK:"Well, I have nothing to expect from Mr Klaus any more, but of course it's a relatively heavy defeat for the Civic Democratic Party and personally for their chairman Mr Klaus. He himself has said that in the case of such a defeat, he would leave politics. Well, let's see."

Let's see indeed. Eduard Outrata is a Senator for the Freedom Union - he told Rob Cameron the main priority was the creation of a government which would be strongly in favour of joining the European Union.

Eduard Outrata:"It's extremely important to hold together parties that really want to enter the European Union and know how to do it. I would be afraid of having a situation where this group wouldn't have a majority. The ODS and the Communists have peculiar ideas, although of course in ODS most people want to enter. Nevertheless, if they and the Communists were to have a majority in the house, it would be very hard to finish the negotiations alright."

Radio Prague: Mr Spidla, the leader of the Social Democrats, said a while ago that it wasn't possible to ignore the support for the Communist Party. After all, he said, this is a democracy and the fact that so many people support them is just an unavoidable part of democracy. Are you perhaps a bit unsettled that he seems to be, perhaps not courting the Communists, but certainly not coming out against them?

EO:"Not me, I'm not. I lived a long time in the West and I believe that the worst thing that could happen to the Communists would be to get dragged into a government, as happened in France. That's the one way to get rid of communists. Maybe Spidla knows it, because he's a Francophile, he studies French history and tradition, so he may have come to the same conclusion. I haven't spoken to him about that. But this is an enormous scare on the right. Most people round here think that that's the end of the world. I'm going from one table to the other persuading them that having one-fifth Communists doesn't mean that the whole nation is going bananas. So we'll see. I personally don't believe there's a big problem there even if the Communists were dragged in. They're not going to be, I hope - not for myself but for the sake of the overall understanding of things - and I still think it's going to be a coalition of the socialists and the Coalition, which will do a few very important things which are common in the two programmes: enter into the European Union, a real fight against corruption, continuation - or better said, the start - of reform of the civil service and possibly the organisation of the country into regions and stuff like that."

RP: Lastly, not a good day for the Civic Democrats and Mr Klaus. They do not look likely to become part of the next government. Do you expect to see Mr Klaus retire from politics now?

EO:"I don't know in his case. He should have retired ages ago. He should have retired at least after the Sarajevo thing. Ever since he's been going down personally and his party has been going down. I think by now it's more than high time. But I'm not sure he's going to do it, because I don't think personally he sees it this way and there are not enough people by now around him who are able to come into his room and put the revolver onto his table. They should have done that some time ago. They should do it now. We'll see."

This year's general elections in the Czech Republic were historic - for the first time ever, Czechs living abroad had a chance to vote. Although the Social Democratic Party came out as the winner of the Czech elections on Saturday, the results are quite different for the election districts around the world. According to preliminary results, the right-of centre Coalition, which at home ended fourth with some 14 percent of the vote, proved to be the most popular party among Czechs living abroad.

Our correspondent Jaromir Marek has been following the elections in New York City:

Jaromir Marek:" Here in New York 173 Czech citizens have registered for the elections but only 138 have come to vote. I think it's a surprise, but the results are quite different from in the Czech Republic itself, because in the first place is the Coalition with nearly 50%, the second position has the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) with 33% and third are the Social Democrats with nearly 15%. One interesting curiosity is that here in New York one vote was given to the Communists, so it's quite interesting."

RP: Well, nearly 50% of the votes went to the Coalition. Why does it differ so much from the Czech Republic?

JM:"I think the reason is quite simple, because politicians from the Coalition usually voted for laws good for Czech citizens living abroad or former Czech refugees, so the Coalition is quite popular here, not just here in the United States, but everywhere where Czech émigrés live."

RP: What about the atmosphere at the consulate?

JM:"Well, all people here are a bit surprised by the results of the elections in the Czech Republic because of the big amount of people voting for the Communists, and I think this is one of the main aspects of the atmosphere here. Everybody is sitting at computers trying to get some information from the Czech Republic, waiting for more results."

RP: How long did it take for the consulate to find out what the results are in the United States?

JM:"They started to count the votes at eight in the morning and it took more than two-and-a-half hours. They wanted to be correct, so it took quite a long time."

And that's all we have from Radio Prague for now but we'll continue to update you regularly on the elections so do continue to listen in. My name is Dita Asiedu, thanks for joining us.