“Not such a stupid move”: Populist right parties announce electoral alliance plan

Tomio Okamura and Zuzana Majerová

Tomio Okamura’s Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD), an anti-EU, anti-migrant party with 20 seats in the Czech lower house, is preparing to form an electoral alliance with fellow populist right party Tricolour. The latter’s leader, Zuzana Majerová, announced the move last week. I discussed the possible reasoning behind it with political scientist Jiří Pehe.

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Kateřina Cibulka,  Czech Radio

“I think that both SPD and Tricolour got inspired by what we saw during the elections in 2021 when the then opposition parties created two coalitions [Together; Pirates and Mayors] and it helped them get a better electoral result. Namely, because some of the votes in that camp were not lost.

“It is true that both parties are slightly different. However, at the same time, when we take their overall political philosophy into account they are very nationalistic, critical of minorities and things of that sort. Both of them are also lukewarm when it comes to supporting Ukraine and are basically treading the Russian line. So there is quite a lot that can connect them.

Zuzana Majerová | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

“What I think might be a bigger problem for both of them going into this coalition is that, while SPD is basically a one man project. It is led by Tomio Okamura and everyone who is in the party basically depends on Tomio Okamura. The Tricolour party is internally more pluralistic, meaning that it is far less dependent on one person. Right now it is led by Zuzana Majerová, but it’s different in this sense. That could be a potential matter of internal dispute going into the future because Mr Okamura takes it very badly if someone challenges him. He likes to control his political project and of course any disagreements from Tricolour could trigger the disintegration of this project.”

The fact that SPD is so much higher in the polls right now than Tricolour (8.5 percent compared to 1.5 percent according to an April Median poll) would perhaps support your point as well. But, moving on, what do you make of the PRO – Právo, Respekt, Odbornost (Law, Respect, Expertise) party which was founded last year by Jindřich Rajchl after he left Tricoulour. According to some, this coalition memorandum was signed precisely to counter PRO, so do you think that party could be moving upwards?

“I think that PRO could certainly move upwards. However, at the same time, it is extremist to such an extent that it will only speak to the more extremist parts of Czech society.

Jindřich Rajchl | Photo: René Volfík,  iROZHLAS.cz

“That is also why it can’t really go into a coalition with SPD because, despite the SPD being often described in the Ministry of Interior’s annual reports as a party with extremist tendencies, or as a movement engaged in some activities that can be described as extremist, in comparison with PRO it is basically a mainstream party. It is much less prone to espouse truly extremist view such as those that we hear from Mr Rajchl and his party.”

Some may remember the Republican Party of Czechoslovakia, which was around in the 1990s but then went down. Do you think there is some sort of a limited life expectancy for hard right parties on the Czech political spectrum? Do they have to keep reinventing themselves to keep going? Especially if we’re looking at the SPD which seems to have successfully made itself into a long-term political grouping.

“I think that if you look at the Czech political spectrum you can see that there are about 15 to 20 percent of Czech voters who, if not prone to vote for extremist parties, are at least prone to vote for anti-systemic parties.

Tomio Okamura | Photo: Luboš Vedral,  Czech Radio

“However, this spectrum has been splintered for many years. At first it was the Republicans and the Communists who shared that part of the political spectrum. Then, during the Migration Crisis in the mid-2010s, Tomio Okamura started his rise in the opinion polls. At first with his movement Úsvit (Dawn) and then he started a new project that is still around – SPD.

“But it seems that no matter the pool of voters that these parties strive for, it doesn’t grow. It seems to be limited. It seems that they simply have to divide the voters in this 15 to 20 percent pool and that is part of the problem.

“Therefore, if you look at it from this point of the view, then of course a possible coalition between SPD and Tricolour is not such a stupid move because otherwise some of these votes just disappear.”