Senate elections - will leading parties lose crucial constitutional majority?

Turning now to the Senate, and Sunday's election failed to inspire much interest there either. Nothing very surprising in that; the Senate has little real power--it can delay, amend, but not veto legislation submitted by the lower house. But the upper house does act as guardian to the Czech Constitution; parties need a three-fifths majority to make any changes, and so the outcome of these elections is being watched closely. Vladimir Tax reports:

The two parties, bound together in a controversial power-sharing pact, badly need this slim majority to push through controversial amendments to the Constitution.

They could lose it thanks to bad results for the Social Democrats. The term is ending for 9 of their senators, but only five candidates made it to the second round. On the other hand, the coalition of four right-of-centre opposition parties turned out to be the most successful, with one candidate elected in the first round and 19 proceeding to the second. The Communists also enjoyed unexpected success and stand a chance of gaining 8 mandates in the Senate.

The main opposition Civic Democrats have 18 candidates in the second round. If all 18 and the five Social Democrat candidates succeed, the two parties will retain their majority in the Senate and will be able to complete their efforts to significantly redefine the Czech political system. They have already changed the election law to the disadvantage of smaller parties, limited the Czech National Bank's independence, and now want to slim down the powers of the President.

But that's a big if. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for Czech President Vaclav Havel, who is firmly opposed to any more changes, they have so far secured only one seat, and look extremely unlikely to win in all the other remaining constituencies. The loss of their prized majority in the Senate would mean a major defeat, and a victory for smaller parties who are fighting to break their grip on power.