Pre-election debate on issues, personalities and the chances of forming a stable government after the 2021 Czech general elections

Czechs will go to the polls on Octber 8 -9 to elect a new parliament and pave the way for a new government. Who are the leaders looking to become the new PM? Will it be personalities or issues that will decide the upcoming elections? And, given what we know today, what are the chances of forming a stable government?  Those are some of the questions Radio Prague International put to Professor Vladimíra Dvořáková (head of the Masaryk Institute of Advanced Studies) and sociologist Jan Hartl (founder and long-term head of the STEM polling agency).


Vladimíra Dvořáková | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio

Vladimíra Dvořáková: You cannot find deep arguments; it is more populist appeals, in the sense of working with emotions, using fear, for instance. Politicians like very simple arguments and a clear position. Although electoral programs contain many things that parties want to resolve, not many people are reading them… and politicians are not talking about them. Babis is trying to explain that he is a very good prime minister, giving more money to weaker social groups that were underfinanced –which is good, but is clearly part of his election campaign.

And, although the opposition is speaking about CHANGE, it is not clear what that change will mean. Politicians point to the high public debt and the need to make cuts, but no one wants to speak about where the money will come from to boost state revenues, no one wants to speak about taxes. No one is speaking about the deeper problems or what needs to be done to build the rule of law. If we look at what is happening in Poland and Hungary building the rule of law is extremely important.

Jan Hartl: The debate – if it exists – is run through here-and-now topics. It is surprising that the opposition to Mr. Babiš does not raise any big issues. Which suits Mr. Babis - I would even say that the opposition is playing on Mr. Babiš’ playground with the political instruments and means that are better for Mr. Babiš -  the rather low level of political marketing, appealing to emotions at the last moment, no debate about long-term goals or where our society is heading. We will not hear anything like that from the opposition….It seems like the campaign is empty.


Jan Hartl | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

Jan Hartl: The chances of forming a stable government is very low according to present figures. The decisive force, which would help in forming a meaningful government, is paradoxically the small parties –whether they cross the 5 percent threshold or not….It is generally assumed that if Babiš wins he would form a coalition with the Communist Party and the populist Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD). But Babiš himself is not happy about the idea. So we could also end up with a minority government, and support from the opposition in parliament would be restricted to day-to-day topics. But, such a government would be very unstable and unlikely to survive a four-year-term and even if it did it is not clear how it would perform.

Vladimíra Dvořáková: The parties who define themselves as a democratic opposition to Andrej Babiš might be able to put together a majority of seats (although they are appealing to the same voters which may be a bit of a problem). The question is how they would collaborate because some are pro-EU, some less so, SPOLU is more conservative, the Pirate Party is quite liberal. I am not sure if they would be able to form a stable government.


Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

Vladimíra Dvořáková: Speaking about parties’ different stands to the EU – the question is even more important in view of the fact that the Czech Republic is due to take up the rotating EU presidency quite soon (mid-2022). So the stand of the Czech government to the EU will be very important at that moment. ….Secondly, Babiš’ conflict of interest is a very complicating factor even for ANO and charges could be brought against him due to some of his economic activities (Storks’ Nest case) so Babis could be totally unacceptable for the EU in the sense that it would withhold EU funds. That could lead to Babiš taking a backseat and opening the way to a government with ANO, but without Babis. It is speculation, but we must consider the possibility.


Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

Vladimíra Dvořáková: Looking at what is happening in Poland and in Hungary, the basic risk is democratic backsliding. Not in terms of a possible return of communism, but rather a dismantling of the basic features of democracy. Because democracy is not just being able to vote in free and fair elections – I do not fear for that – but it is also a question of the rule of law, oversight institutions, the checks and balances in power. And the way that the constitution is interpreted by our top politicians is sometimes incredible. No one is quite sure where the president’s and prime minister’s powers begin and where they end, the appointments of people, even in the intelligence services, is something that goes against the law. Those are basic features of democratic backsliding.

That is a trend in the world today, there are not so many coup d’etats nowadays, but what mostly happens is that those who are elected start dismantling the basic features of democracy. Politicians here often think they own the state –but no politician owns the state. The state must be built to work even if the politicians in power are very bad. This has not yet been accomplished in the Czech Republic. Now we can increasingly see a dismantlement of the state and that worries me. I hope we do not go past a certain point, as happened in Hungary.

Jan Hartl: I do not think the elections will be a turning point. The best I can expect is that they will set an agenda for a better political culture and better ways of communication.  But, I do not think it will be a direct result of these elections. It is also highly probable that nothing like that will happen and that the four years will be a waste of time.

STEM agency poll,  September 2021 | Source: STEM

1. ANO

2. Electoral alliance of Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and TOP 09 (SPOLU)

3. Electoral alliance of Pirate Party and Mayors and Independents (STAN)

4. Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD)

5. Communist Party (KSČM)

6. Social Democratic Party (ČSSD)

7. Trikolora Svobodní Soukromníci electoral alliance

8. The Oath (Přísaha)

9. Volný bloc electoral alliance

10. Other parties