Senate passes controversial election law

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The upper house of the Czech Parliament, the Senate, has approved fundamental changes to the electoral law, paving the way for the introduction of what some observers say will be a two-party system in Czech politics. But opinion polls show almost half of the population opposed to the changes: they say the new law poses a danger to democracy in the Czech Republic. Vladimir Tax reports.

The amendment, pushed for by the right-of-centre Civic Democratic Party or ODS, introduces certain elements to the proportional electoral systems that will significantly strengthen the position of the leading political parties and reduce the chances of smaller parties. They include an increase in the number of constituencies and setting a higher threshold necessary for coalitions to enter parliament. Under the current system, each political party has to receive 5 percent of the vote to get into parliament, allowing smaller parties to form coalitions to cross the line more easily. However, the thresholds are now to be combined for coalitions, which means that a four-party coalition will have to obtain 20 percent of the vote to enter parliament.

According to a recent opinion poll, almost 50 percent of Czech see the changes in the electoral law as undemocratic. I asked Keith Crawford, a political scientist and senior politics lecturer at the Anglo-American College in Prague, whether he shared this view. The passage of the law through the Senate was uncertain until the last moment as some Social Democrats hesitated to give it their support. I asked Keith Crawford whether if the president vetoes the bill and it has to be debated in the lower house again, it is possible that some of the Social Democrats will change their minds and vote against the law sacrificing the government.