NGO: preferential votes played key role in election of more women to lower house

Photo: CTK

Last month’s election saw more women than ever before elected to the Czech Republic’s Chamber of Deputies: 44 (some 22 percent of all MPs). The three centre-right parties holding talks on forming the next government have since put forward three women politicians – Miroslava Němcová, Kateřina Klasnová, and Vlasta Parkanová – for important posts: the speaker of the lower house, and deputy chairpersons, respectively. A little earlier I spoke to Michaela Appeltová of Forum 50 percent – an NGO aimed at promoting the role of women in politics, and asked her how she viewed this year’s election.

Photo: CTK
“As an NGO that actually tries to get more women into politics we are very happy with the result. We are very pleased that there are 44 women who made it into the lower house – a significant increase since the last election. On the other had, we have to say it was actually the voters – as opposed to many of the parties themselves – who played a role in the increase of women’s representation. Parties leading in opinion polls ahead of the vote, especially the Social and Civic Democrats, nominated very few women to elective positions and it was preferential voting by the public that made the difference. They gave many preferential votes, which pushed forward 14 women out of the 44 who otherwise would not have gotten in.

“The most marked example and least expected result was that of the Civic Democrats’ Lenka Kohoutová who was in 29th spot on the candidates’ list in Prague. Through preferential voting, she moved all the way up to 5th spot. That was totally unexpected and afterwards she even admitted that some of her male colleagues were not happy about the result.”

Kateřina Klasnová,  photo: CTK
Voters this year turned away from the bigger parties, opting instead for smaller newcomers, one of the being the sort of upstart Public Affairs. How would you describe the impact they have had? They certainly haven’t shied away from putting forward women in politics.

“It’s true that the party Public Affairs put forward many women on their candidates’ lists: that had 36 percent in Prague and even 40 percent in Vysočany. They have been strong in this. On the other hand, many commentators have pointed out that Public Affairs as a party is largely ‘unreadable’ – we don’t really know what we can expect. It is uncertain just how strong the women elected by the party will really be.”

Three women have been forward for key posts in the lower house, including the speaker. Do you think that that represents something of a shift among more traditional parties, a change in attitudes towards female colleagues?

“I am afraid that will not be the case. We would really like to see that happen, that the parties would shift their attention towards having more women represented in Parliament, in politics, in other spheres of political life. We have to say that women aren’t taken seriously or that political parties do not actively look for women who could be in positions of power. It’s true that if Miroslava Němcová is elected speaker she would be in the third most powerful position in the Czech Republic under the constitution. On the other hand, three women given posts in Parliament will mean three fewer women for possibly ministerial posts in the government.”

Miroslava Němcová,  photo: CTK
We have seen the situation in neighboring Slovakia, also after elections, and it appears that now they will have a female prime minister. Do you think that could also have a positive impact on the Czech Republic?

“We hope so: Slovakia is still regarded, in the media and the political discourse, of being a ‘step behind’ the Czech Republic. But we hope that by emphasizing that Slovakia will have a first female prime minister, it may change how women are regarded by our own political parties.”