Czechs voted for a democratic change
„Well, we have democracy, now we need some democrats! “ - Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, first Czechoslovak president
Parliamentary election took place in the Czech Republic on the 8th and 9th of October 2021 and was one of the most thrilling polls in years. The first election to follow the jurisdiction of a new electoral law, it saw surprising changes in the parliamentary composition. For the first time since 1921, the Communist party did not take a single seat in the parliament. The former Prime Minister’s party ANO is shifting into opposition, and 25 % of the chairs are taken by women.
After recent scandals linked to the Former Prime Minister (PM) Andrej Babiš’s business activities, it became clear that the Czech Republic needs a shift in the way the country is managed. The citizens responded to this with 65,4 % of eligible citizens coming out to vote, the highest turnout since 1998. The media reported an enormous interest from the global and expat communities as well, highlighting hours-long queues in front of the embassy in London and cross-continent journeys taken by Czechs to cast their ballots.
The results of the vote
It was a very narrow race between the Prime Minister’s party ANO and the conservative coalition SPOLU (“Together”), which is formed of Civic Democrats, Christian democrats, and TOP 09. ANO was leading until the very last hour of the counting, which is when the Prague voting results came in and flipped the lead. The 200 seats in the parliament are now filled in the following proportion:
- 27,79 % for the coalition SPOLU - 71 seats,
- 27,12 % for ANO - 72 seats,
- 15.62% for Coalition PirSTAN, which consists of the Pirates & Mayors and the Independents - 37 seats, and
- 9.56% for SPD, the far-right Freedom and Democracy Party - 20 seats.
None of the traditionally winning left-wing parties such as social democrats or communists nor the newly formed Volný Blok (“Free Block,” named after its leader Lubomír Volný) gathered the necessary 5 % threshold to qualify for the new mandate.
Updated system of counting the votes
This election was the first impacted by the newly adopted electoral law, which most affected the distribution of seats between political parties and movements in the regions. All parties and movements that get at least 5 % of the vote in the whole country advance to the so-called first scrutiny. Coalitions of two parties and movements now need at least 8 % of the vote; coalitions of three or more parties need 11 % of the vote. The distribution of seats in the first ballot is calculated by dividing the number of all valid votes cast in the region by the number of seats allocated to the region, increased by two. We then divide the electoral number by the number of valid votes of individual parties and movements or coalitions that advanced to the first scrutiny. All remaining seats and votes that were not divided in the first ballot are transferred to the so-called second ballot. The sum of the remaining votes of all parties and movements is divided by the number of remaining seats increased by one. The result is then divided by the remaining votes of the individual parties. The parties will receive so many remaining seats in the second round. In elections to the Chamber of Deputies, seats are allocated on the basis of the order on the list of candidates. This can be confused with the so-called preferential votes. The voter has the right to circle up to four candidates on the list of candidates and thus gives them a preferential vote.
New politicians, new coalitions, and new rules
SPOLU and PirSTAN already signed a common memorandum on forming a coalition. The new parliament shall gather within 30 days after the election to set up the new government. A crucial role is played by the president, who will entrust the government formation to a member of the newly elected parliament - if he does not do so, there is insurance in the Constitution - on the thirtieth day after the elections, the Chamber of Deputies will meet alone. The Constitution states that the president of the Republic appoints the Prime Minister and, on his or her proposal, other members of the Government. The procedure is therefore dependent on the president of the Republic, who is appointed by the Prime Minister of the first government -- or even the second. If neither the first nor the second government gains the confidence of the Chamber, the president of the third government must already be appointed by the president on the proposal of the Speaker of the Chamber.
It is traditionally the leader of the winning party who is named a new Prime Minister, however, there is no actual rule limiting the options. That might be also the reason why former PM Babiš did not hesitate and visited president Zeman immediately. According to the PM’s statement, the president will entrust the task to Mr Babiš, while leader of the SPOLU group Petr Fiala admits that they don’t have a meeting with the president arranged yet. Mr Babiš also stated that they are not willing to negotiate the government composition with the parties in opposition1 (ANO and SPD).
The upcoming EU Presidency in the hands of a new leader
Czech voters’ attitude towards the European Union differs compared to the other Member States of the Visegrad Four (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland). Unlike, for example, neighbouring Germany, which held its elections last month, EU membership was a strongly discussed topic within the pre-election public debate in the Czech Republic.
Winning parties promoted EU-related issues within their campaigns, highlighting the importance of being part of this international cooperation. The steadiest items among the citizens’ priorities are security – in the sense of terrorism and Islamic extremism prevention, a functional free market, and climate action. Surprisingly, the upcoming Czech Presidency in the EU Council in the second half of 2022 was barely mentioned.
Based on the election program of both winning groups, however, one can assume that the new parliament will attempt to strengthen the country’s position in the EU. Although they don’t give many details, SPOLU promotes unambiguous allyship to the west – meaning Czech Republic’s future in the EU and NATO.2 More concrete objectives were introduced by the PirSTAN, who envision a Presidency of the Council of the EU with a focus on completing the post-pandemic recovery, digitalisation, the environment, and other pressing issues.3 They aim to deepen relations with the EU states and renew the perception of the Czech Republic as a reliable and responsible partner.
Health policy perspective
According to Vendula Kazlauskas from the Association for International Matters (AMO) healthcare is a very important topic for Czechs.4 They support the EU strategy for the cross-border health threats preparedness and response, as they realise the EU’s important role in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Kazlauskas says that it might have had an impact on voters’ choice as the leading parties focused on international cooperation in this area.
Among the most promoted initiatives belong digitalisation of healthcare and telemedicine expansion. PirSTAN emphasizes the significance of quality analysis and sharing of anonymized health data for improving healthcare accessibility and removing inequalities across the regions. Implementation of eHealth initiative as a law and improving the cybersecurity of hospitals is strongly promoted by ANO as well.5 At the moment, the Czech Republic is implementing its national cancer strategy, which aligns with Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. These efforts are appreciated by Czechs. The national plan is being put forward by ANO – PM Babiš stated during its official introduction that it will be the party’s flagship of the healthcare priorities for the next election period.
Towards better democracy
Overall, this election brought fresh ideas to the Czech political environment, catalysed by the new electoral system as well as novel coalitions. Programmes with a real potential to positively impact lives in the country have been put forth by both leading groups.
Finally, it is worth highlighting an interesting programme point of the winning SPOLU – advocating for the choice of a national bird.6 As national birds appear to be one of the state symbols of most of the developed democracies (French coq, Belgian hen, Danish swan...), I believe that an intentionally chosen bird will contribute to the national pride of Czechs and their fervour to promote democratic values demonstrated in this election.
As RPP we will be closely monitoring and analysing the coalition talks and the set-up of the new government. DO not hesitate to contact us should you seek support in navigating through the newest developments.
4 EUROPEUM: To what extent will the parties' approaches to the European Union affect the parliamentary elections? Recordings of the debate available on this link.