Ruling coalition preserves majority in Parliament’s upper chamber

Bohuslav Sobotka, Milan Štěch, photo: CTK

The Czech centre-left coalition government has conserved a comfortable majority in the Senate after 18 of their candidates won seats in the upper chamber of Parliament over the weekend. With 10 newly elected senators, the senior coalition Social Democrats were the most successful party at the polls. However, less than 17 percent of voters cast their ballots in the second round of the election, the lowest turnout on record.

Bohuslav Sobotka, Milan Štěch, photo: CTK
Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka appeared moderately jubilant as he faced reporters after the results of the second round of voting for the Czech Senate were announced on Saturday. His party won 10 seats in the 81-seat Senate, and with 33 senators, they remain the strongest group in the house.

After their success in local elections a week ago, the coalition Christian Democrats came second with four senators elected on the party ticket and another three on a joint ballot with the Green Party. The centrist ANO party of billionaire Andrej Babiš has won four seats in the Senate.

The three coalition parties now have 47 out of 81 senators; that shows that voters backed the ruling coalition in general and the Social Democrats in particular, according to Prime Minister Sobotka.

“The government coalition won the elections. When we compare the gains of the coalition parties with those of the opposition, the voters’ decision is unequivocal. […]

“I interpret the results as an expression of support for the government’s policies which we adopted eight months ago when we created a new coalition cabinet.”

Pavel Bělobrádek, photo: archive of Czech Government
However, a closer look reveals that the Social Democrats only defended 10 out of 19 seats in the Senate. That has led some commentators to note that the Christian Democrats were the real winners.

After the party exited the lower house four years ago, it elected a new leadership and gained momentum which some believe could make it the strongest group on the right. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Bělobrádek is the party’s chair.

“[The election is] another step in what we could call a systematic and continuous rise in support for us. We have grown stronger with every election. The important thing is that this is a long-term gradual trend, with no sudden jumps.”

On the other hand, the elections brought a major setback for the opposition, both the Communist and the right-of-centre Civic Democrat and TOP 09 parties. Only two Civic Democrat senators were elected, while none of the six TOP 09 candidates were successful.

However, the overall results are somehow relativized by the extremely low turnout. A mere 17 percent of voters cast their ballots in the second round of voting, the lowest number since the creation of the Czech Republic in 1993.

Vít Hloušek is the head of the International Institute of Political Science at Brno’s Masaryk University. He believes the low turnout indicates continued public dissatisfaction with politics.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
“I think that some sort of anti-political mood is still prevailing in the Czech society, and an atmosphere of distrust could explain the really low turnout.

“On the other hand, those who are still willing to express their opinions through elections believe that the governing coalition is not coping so badly. So I think it signals that the Czech political life has somehow stabilized.”