Political analyst: When emotions subside people will come to see that the present election system is unjust

Jiří Pehe, photo: Luboš Vedral / Czech Radio

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday issued a verdict invalidating articles of the election law that it said discriminated against small parties. In future, blocs of parties running together will need to gain only  5 percent of the vote to enter the lower house, just like single groupings, and it will no longer be necessary to take far more votes to win seats in some constituencies than others. I spoke to political scientist Jiří Pehe about the implications of the change and whether  the ruling could put the general elections, scheduled for the beginning of October, in jeopardy.

“Well, the parts of the election law that were invalidated are those that discriminated against small parties and given the fact that in the Czech lower house we have one big party – ANO – and a plethora of small parties I think that those political parties are quite motivated to agree on a compromise. So I think that the only obstacle will be Mr. Babiš and his ANO party which will try to obstruct the process of finding a compromise, because quite obviously the old system was much more advantageous for the prime minister’s party. In fact some experts have already said that, had the previous elections been held on the basis of a system that was not discriminatory, ANO would have gotten 15 fewer mandates than it did.”

We do not yet know quite how the law will be changed – but how will it affect the political scene? There are fears it could lead to fragmentation and the Czech Republic does not have a good record in putting together viable coalitions from more parties…

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl

“I do not think that the change required by the Constitutional Court will fragment the political scene. Quite frankly, we only have about nine parties which are able to gain seats in the lower house at this moment and two of them – the Communist Party and the Social Democrats - are in danger of not making it at all, so I do not think that because of the change in the electoral law we would have a situation where we would have even more political parties in the lower chamber than we do now. Fragmentation is possible on a different level and that is that the change of law may create pressure on the new coalitions that have emerged  -above all the coalition of TOP 09, the Civic Democrats and the Christian Democrats – because as small parties who will benefit from the change their desire to stay in the coalition may not be as strong as it was.”

The complaint against the electoral law was filed in 2017 –why did it take so long for the Constitutional Court to issue a ruling?

“I think that one of the criticisms that is really valid is the fact that the Constitutional Court waited for more than three years before issuing a verdict. That should not happen, especially in cases such as a change of the electoral law. But it was clear that this would affect the next election – scheduled for the beginning of October 2021 – so there was no pressure on the Constitutional Court. Also, it was clearly necessary to formulate the decision of the court very clearly because it pertained to a very sensitive political matter – not just a legal matter – and it was clear that it would create all kinds of negative responses – as it has done.”

What do you think of the reactions to this move?

“Well, I think that some of the reactions from experts, but also one or two points made by the prime minister, who said this should have come earlier, that it took too long, that’s certainly valid. But the attack from the prime minister when he accused the Constitutional Court of playing political games and trying to get rid of him, his personal attack against the Chairman of the Constitutional Court Pavel  Rychetsky– that is totally unacceptable in a democratic society.

“I think that when the emotions subside, politicians will sit down and find a reasonable compromise and even those who now criticize the decision of the Constitutional Court will come to see that the electoral system in this country, which was created in its present form by the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats as part of their opposition treaty, was unjust and that it will benefit everyone to have a fair system in which people who vote for the smaller parties will not feel that they are discriminated against.”