Top court rejects complaint against gerrymandering in Prague’s local elections

The Czech Constitutional Court, photo: CTK

The Czech Constitutional Court dismissed on Tuesday a complaint by three political parties contesting last October’s local elections in the capital. Public Affairs, the Green and the European Democrat parties argued the elections were unfair due to gerrymandering, dividing Prague into seven districts, which diminished their prospects at the polls. The court said however the parties failed to prove the division was intended to hurt their chances.

The Czech Constitutional Court, photo: CTK
Only three parties made it to Prague’s municipal council in the local elections held in October 2010 – TOP 09, the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats. All the other political groups were left out as they failed to cross the 7.5 percent threshold needed to get in.

Three of the unsuccessful parties – Public Affairs, the Greens and the European Democrats felt this was because of an unfair division of the capital into seven electoral districts of different sizes. The redistricting was done by Civic Democrat-controlled City Hall four months ahead of the elections.

The three parties, along with several individuals, contested the election results at the Constitutional Court. One of their main arguments was that votes in different districts had in fact different values, which hurt the smaller parties.

Ondřej Liška, photo: Kristýna Maková
In Tuesday’s verdict, the Constitutional Court rejected most of the reasoning. Judge Jiří Nykodým admitted the division was unfair to smaller groups but said the plaintiffs had failed to prove it was done intentionally. The head of the Green Party, Ondřej Liška, was critical of the court’s decision.

“I think the reasoning was very shallow. For instance, one of the arguments said the Constitutional Court did not consider itself to be in place to consider our claim after the elections, only before. However, we first approached the Supreme Administrative Court which said it was only possible to deal with our claims after the elections. So you see that the country’s two top legal institutions have contradictory views on the issue.”

The ruling came as great relief to the Civic Democrats, who again control Prague’s City Hall despite coming in second in the elections. But it was a tight call: five of the court’s 14 judges thought the court should accept the complaint, and declare the elections null and void. For Ondřej Liška, this is a proof the complaint was justified.

Bohuslav Svoboda, photo: CTK
“One of the reasons why I think our claim was legitimate and highlighted a very relevant issue in our constitutional system is that five respectable judges of the court issued dissenting opinions on the matter that disagreed with the court’s rejection of our claim.”

None of the three parties are planning to take any further steps in the matter but the Czech election law is still likely to change. The Interior Ministry is planning to amend the legislation, again making the city of Prague one electoral district, an idea supported even by the current Mayor of Prague, Civic Democrat Bohuslav Svoboda.