Senior coalition Civic Democrats lose Prague, other big cities in local elections

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK

The municipal and Senate elections that took place in the Czech Republic over the weekend have no clear winners – but they do have several losers. In the local elections, independent candidates won the most seats on municipal councils, while the coalition Civic Democrats suffered a serious setback, losing most big and medium-sized towns and cities, including the capital Prague. In the first round of voting for seats to a third of the Senate, 22 Social Democrat candidates made it to the second round, followed by 19 Civic Democrats.

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
In local elections, the highest number of positions on municipal councils went to independent candidates. These are various local groups that only run in their town or city – but they have won in the past as well because they have the highest number of candidates running.

The Civic Democrats won the second highest number of posts on village, town and city councils. However, compared to the previous elections four years ago, they lost around 800 seats, particularly in big cities such as Brno, Ostrava, Liberec and others. In fact, they only won in Plzeň and Teplice.

More importantly, and for the first time ever, the Civic Democrats lost Prague to their coalition partner, the conservative TOP 09 party. The head of the Civic Democrats, Petr Nečas, thought one of the reasons they lost in big cities was that they have been there ever since free elections were held in 1994.

Jan Korytář of Change for Liberec got most votes in local elections in Liberec,  photo: CTK
“We are experiencing problems that could stem from a long-term, inner instability, the tarnished reputation of some of our leading representatives or voters just might be tired of the long presence of the Civic Democrats on municipal councils. That’s natural – there are cities and towns where the mayor has been a Civic Democrat ever since 1994 when the party first ran in local elections. This is also a factor that comes up.”

However, it seems some voters were not tired of Mr Nečas’ party, like in Teplice or Kladno, and in most districts in Prague, where they won. More likely, the voters voted the Civic Democrats out wherever they didn’t like what they were doing – which is what happened in Liberec, for instance.

The opposition Social Democrats did fairly well at the ballots, better than four years ago, and will now have some 600 local representatives more than they did. They managed to score important victories in cities like Brno and Ostrava, and to fare well in the capital, too, with around 21 percent of the vote city-wide.

The Communists on the other hand lost around a thousand posts on municipal councils. That shows that the local elections were not really about the government’s policies but about local issues.

Zdeněk Tůma,  photo: CTK
In Prague, where TOP 09 got over 30 percent of the vote, followed by the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats, negotiations among the parties have just got underway. The TOP 09 mayoral hopeful, Zdeněk Tůma, was not very specific when he talked to reporters about what will happen in the capital.

“We have to realize this is only the beginning. There will be coalition talks and we will see what Prague City Hall will look like. In any case, we will insist that the future coalition must be functional and must implement the changes we promised. So we will push for that, we will insist on a new face for the Prague leadership which we promised ahead of the elections, and we will try to fulfil that promise.”

The Greens, who got nearly 6 percent of the vote but no seats on the city council, said they would challenge the elections in Prague in court. The former City Hall had divided Prague into seven districts for the election, and the Greens claim that it seriously hurt them. Some political analysts said it was a clear case of gerrymandering. The Greens brought the case to court as soon as it happened but their complaint was rejected. This time around, however, they believe they have solid evidence to prove their case.

Photo: CTK
In the elections for a third of the Czech Senate, no senator was elected at the ballots which saw the highest turnout ever for Senate elections with just bellow 45 percent of voters showing up.

In the second round to be held on Friday and Saturday, the 27 Senate seats will be contested by 22 Social Democrats, 19 Civic Democrats, five 5 TOP 09 candidates and eight others. If the Social Democrats do really well, they might in fact gain a majority in Senate – all they need is to convert 12 candidates into senators.

That would mean an inconvenience for the government and its reforms, but not much more than that. The ruling coalition has a comfortable majority in the lower house of the Czech Parliament that can overturn any veto coming from the Senate.

Prime Minister Petr Nečas rejected the idea that the poor showings of his party, and of another coalition partner, Public Affairs, could hurt the government in any way.

Public Affairs' leader Radek John,  photo: CTK
“In no way will we allow the result to have any impact on the composition of the ruling coalition or its work. That I would consider a grave political error; the results of these elections will not change the situation within the coalition at all. The coalition was set up on the basis of the outcome of May’s general elections, and on the basis of a coalition agreement. Local elections have no effect on that.”

However, observers point out that we might see more tension within the cabinet as Public Affairs might want to boost their support by seeking more attention, and expressing reservations to the government’s reform drive.