Established parties take back seat in local elections

Foto: ČTK

Negotiations on the formation of local councils are being held around the country in the wake of the weekend elections. While local groups and independent candidates traditionally won the most votes in the regions, the ANO party of the ruling coalition –which entered the Czech political scene as an alternative to the established parties - dominated in most of the big cities, including Prague. The outcome has led many to consider whether the established parties are losing their grip on Czech politics. I asked political analyst Jiří Pehe for his take on the matter.

Photo: CTK
“I think that in general we have seen the trend of turning away from the established parties in the Czech Republic for several years now and in the municipal elections as well as the Senate elections this trend is more apparent than elsewhere. On the other hand, municipal elections are very specific in that people traditionally tend to vote for various associations and movements rather than for political parties – especially in the smaller towns and villages. We now see that this trend of voting for local groups and turning away from the established parties has been elevated to a higher level - even in the larger cities – but I would not make any radical conclusions based on that. We still have to wait and see whether this trend holds in the parliamentary elections because that is where we could say that this trend has affected also the central level of Czech politics.”

On the one hand, these elections have been a success for the coalition parties, but, on the other hand, will not ANO’s growing strength threaten the cohesion of the coalition government?

ANO candidates, photo: CTK
“I think the elections were a good outcome for the entire ruling coalition because none of the ruling parties can say that they lost or that they won a victory that would humiliate the other coalition partners. Certainly ANO succeeded in the big cities, but the Social Democrats succeeded in the smaller towns and villages and also in first round of the Senate elections and the Christian Democrats were also very successful in small towns and villages, actually gaining more mandates than their coalition partners –so none of the parties lost and that will be interpreted as something that will strengthen the coalition. And certainly if this election will have any impact on Czech politics then it will make the coalition more firm. It seems to me that the prediction that the elections could rock the ruling coalition has failed.”

Historically we have seen the lowest ever turnout in local elections – 44 percent- to what to you ascribe that?

Jiří Pehe, photo: Šárka ševčíková
“One can make a number of observations about the low turnout. One of them would be that in Europe we see a low electoral turnout in municipal elections – and indeed in other elections –and we could simply say that the Czech Republic is becoming an established democracy in which people feel that they don’t really have to vote. There was no big issue in these elections that would mobilize people, so that may be another reason for the low electoral turnout and, finally, it seems to me that some people are less ready to vote for these various movements and civic associations than for established parties. Many of them simply stay at home and prefer to watch the electoral outcome rather than being actively involved.”