Czech party politics used to be boring. The 2013 parliamentary election, however, highlights the transformation of the party system, the arrival of new entrants and the woes faced by the long-established parties. The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) won the election, but the margin of victory was slender. When the centre-right government under Prime Minister Petr Necas collapsed in a scandal involving sex, lies and spies in June, CSSD looked on course to win 30 percent of the vote. The only question seemed to be whether they would strike a deal with the Communists or not. The party, however, managed just 20.45 percent in October’s election, throwing the party into turmoil. Tensions between the different wings of the party re-emerged and within hours the knives were out for party leader Bohuslav Sobotka. The explanation for the failure of CSSD may lie with Sobotka’s lack of charisma and a lackluster campaign full of rather bland promises such a “well-functioning state”, but it is worth recalling that the party garnered almost the same level of support it got in the previous election in 2010. The key to CSSD’s weakness lies in the inability to integrate the forces of the left in the way that Robert Fico has managed in Slovakia.
The Czech Communists (KSCM) remain a solid, robust party with a well-developed organization and loyal and dependable voters.
Just as in 2010 the established parties faced new challengers. Two newly formed parties, ANO 2011 and Usvit prime demokracie (‘Dawn of the Direct Democracy’) mustered over 25 percent of the vote. The two new parties offered the more colorful characters of the election. Usvit was created and led by the Czech-Japanese entrepreneur Tomio Okamura, whereas ANO was founded and led by the Slovak born billionaire Andrej Babis.
With his call for “direct democracy”, fused with anti-EU and anti-Roma rhetoric, Okamura’s party won 6.88 percent of the vote, but his success was cast into the shadows by Babis’s success. ANO (the acronym spells out the word ‘yes’ in Czech) won 18.65 percent of the vote and was seen at home and abroad as the de facto winner of the election. The well-organized and well-funded ANO mixed appeals of left and right, although the most prominent campaign slogan was for low levels of corporate tax. Babis was plagued by accusations of his collaboration with the Communist-era secret services and when interviewed or in the leaders’ debates mixed Slovak words and grammar into his Czech, but his star rose in the final few weeks of the campaign thanks in part to media performances including an appearance on the Jan Kraus show, the Czech equivalent of Jay Leno’s Tonight show.
Full Article: The Czech paradox: Did the winner lose and the losers win?.