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Shifting political landscape in Central Europe

Comment by Terezie Vávrová, Civic Education Centre, Czech Republic

Terezie VávrováTerezie Vávrová (© Terezie Vavrova)
The 2017 Czech legislative election was held in October and since then the negotiation of a new coalition has taken place.

Opinion polls showed ANO – the anti-establishment party founded by a billionaire oligarch Babiš – leading since early 2014, with their lead gradually increasing to double digits. The Social Democrats had been losing ground since early 2017. The result was a victory for ANO, which received 29.6% of the vote and 78 seats. The centre-right Civic Democratic Party was the second strongest party, receiving 11.3% and 25 seats. The ruling Czech Social Democratic Party was marginalised to 7% and came sixth. The Czech Pirate Party and Freedom and Direct Democracy both received over 10% and became new parliamentary parties. Nine parties entered the lower chamber, resulting in the most fragmented Chamber of Deputies in the history of the Czechia. This was also the first time that neither of the traditional mainstream parties won the election.

The Czech economy has experienced rapid growth, a balanced budget and the lowest unemployment in the EU in the last four years, but the Social Democrats, who led a government with ANO and another partner, have not been able to capitalise. Babiš’s ANO party, which has vowed to cut taxes, increase investments and curb immigration, took advantage of voters’ desire for change by promising to fight corruption, stop deeper EU integration and prevent the country from accepting quotas for taking in refugees imposed by Brussels. Babiš himself has promised to bring a businessman’s touch to government.

ANO was not the only anti-establishment party to do well. Among the biggest surprises in the election was the strong showing by Freedom & Direct Democracy (SPD), the extreme right-wing party of Tomio Okamura, of mixed Czech and Japanese descent. Such right-wing parties, which have taken root elsewhere in Eastern Europe, had been largely inconsequential in Czech politics. ANO will have to form a coalition, with talks likely to take weeks. If negotiations with mainstream parties fail, there is the possibility ANO may form a cabinet with backing from the Communists and the far-right SPD.

There is concern that Babiš as Prime Minister could join a nationalist bloc with Poland and Hungary and deepen the rift between the EU and many of its eastern members.


NECE Newsletter 03/2020

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