New parties under pressure to do well in upcoming local and Senate elections, says analyst Jiří Pehe

Photo: CTK

Czechs around the country will be going to the polls on Friday and Saturday. Record numbers of candidates are running in elections for municipal councils, with one of the most interesting races expected in Prague: the Civic Democrats have dominated City Hall since the fall of communism, but could now lose for the first time. As well as choosing new local representatives, voters will also be deciding on 27 of the 81 seats in the Czech Senate. Radio Prague talked to political analyst Jiří Pehe about what is at stake in the weekend’s elections.

The Czech Senate
“I think that the municipal elections will be a vote about local issues in the first place, but also about the government. In other words, it will be a vote that will have an impact on the government.

“The reason is that two of the coalition parties – the TOP and Public Affairs parties – are new political subjects; parties that need to prove to themselves and to their voters that they are viable political groups.

“And I think that in the case of the Public Affairs party in particular, what happens in the elections is quite important because if this party does not do well, it could trigger a major conflict within that party and also problems in the ruling coalition.”

Where do the opposition Social Democrats come in? They have failed to elect new party leadership after May’s general elections but do you think that disagreement among voters with the government’s policies could bring them extra points in the vote?

“I think that the Social Democrats realize that both in the municipal and Senate elections, they can only gain simply because they don’t expect to do extremely well. They never do well in local elections, it’s a party that does much better on the national level. That’s why any good result, any city the Social Democrats can take by finishing first, will be a success.”

There is one issue though that might put them under pressure – if they fare really well in the Senate elections, they might break the ruling coalition’s majority in the upper house. How likely is that?

“The Social Democrats have a good chance of doing that. Under certain circumstances in fact, they could win a majority themselves in the Senate. So they are in a very good position and it would be important for them, but I’d say more symbolically than anything else. You see, any Senate veto can be easily overturned in the lower house, which is often the case.

“But if the government wanted to go ahead with constitutional changes that the Social Democrats don’t want, or perhaps more importantly, changes to the electoral law, then they would have enough strength to block them, because in these cases, the Senate cannot be overturned by the lower house.”