Did you miss them? How could you? Perhaps you were distracted doing something this weekend? The Czech local elections – spiced up by brace of Senate contests, which will (mostly) conclude with run-off elections next week – have been and gone. Admittedly, they didn’t not quite repeat the political earthquake of the parliamentary elections in May, but there were a number of powerful tremors and further aftershocks bringing down unstable party structures cannot be ruled out.
The main story of the weekend seems to be the electoral battering taken by the Civic Democrats (ODS) in major urban centres, where they have historically dominated: with the exception of Plzeň, they were beaten into second place in all provincial capitals by the (still leaderless) Social Democrats (ČSSD)and, as in the parliamentary elections in May, beaten into second place in Prague by TOP09. ODS did, however, manage to be the standard bearer for the centre-right in most of the 27 Senate seats up for re-election, although in most they trail the Social Democrats badly and are likely to register big losses come the second round of voting next week. Interestingly, the Christian Democrats – dumped out of parliament in May – managed to make it into the run-offs against Social Democrats in a couple of seats in Moravia. In the face of some (by Czech standards) pretty tough-minded austerity, many Czech voters have saw-sawed back to the centre-left – or at least actually bothered to vote – suggesting that the social market instincts of the Czech electorate should never be underestimated. A quick glance at numbers of candidates fielded (see below) also, interestingly suggests that ČSSD (light orange) now has a sustained national organisational reach it once lacked, although almost half of candidates running were unorganised independents (not graphed).
TOP09, the new party formed by ex-Christian Democrats and independents formed in 2009 and led by aristocratic ex-Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg confirmed that, at least in the short-term it is a force to be reckoned with, with a biggish slate of candidates polling well across the country – with support centred in urban areas – but (with the key exception of Prague) failing to overhaul the Civic Democrats other than in the Moravian city of Zlín (home of the Bat’a shoe empire), where it benefited from the unpopularity of a long-term Grand Coalition of Civic and Social Democrats and seems well placed to take control of the city in alliance with local independents. In the longer term, however, the lack of a significant further breakthrough to follow up its success in May may weaken the party. On the other hand, the party can draw comfort from its relatively good electoral performance – and organizational spread – running separately from the Mayors and Independents bloc with whom it ran a joint parliamentary electoral list in May, although the Mayors notched up 1243 councillors to TOP’s 1509 councillors despite fielding many more candidates. On the other had, a quick glance at figures for urban boroughs shows that TOP predominates in bigger cities and towns, where there is more local power and money (338 TOP borough councillors to the Mayors’ modest 22).
The other new party swept in parliament in May, Public Affairs (VV), fared much less well. Despite fielding a reasonably number of local candidates for a new party, flopped badly in both Senate and local elections: even in Prague where it had its origins it barely scrapped together 5 percent and thanks to a gerrymandering by the outgoing Civic Democrat administration (splitting Prague into seven electoral districts) failed to make it onto the Prague city council. The Greens suffered a similar fate, although after years of electoral marginality they are probably used to it and, unlike VV whose demise may only be a matter of time, will probably live to fight another day.
Even star VV Senate candidate, ex-Foreign Minister and ex-Senator Josef Zeleniec failed to make it into the second round running in Prague. How he and various other politicians from small more established liberal centre-right parties must regret hitching their wagons to VV: the party’s Prague electoral leader, Markéta Reedová, former leader of the European Democrats, anti-corruption campaigner and bugbear of the Civic Democrats during their less than squeaky-clean time at the helm of the Czech capital, looked shattered after the poll
– as well she might having seen her former party (in alliance with the Greens) outpoll VV’s well funded operation. TOP09 now seems likely to take over the mayoralty in Prague and there will, I predict, soon be a queue of prominent ex-VV-ers beating a path to TOP09.
Still, in most places TOP and the Civic Democrats seemed doomed to co-operate with ODS having the upper hand in most places except Prague.