After eight months of negotiations, the Czech Republic’s lower parliamentary house – the Chamber of Deputies – yesterday voted in favour of a new government. Headed up by multimillionaire Andrej Babiš’s centrist populists ANO (an acronym, as well as meaning “yes” in Czech), it has succeeded in formulating a minority coalition government with the ČSSD (the Czech Party of Social Democrats).
The Legislative Elections – which took place in October last year – left the Chamber of Deputies in its most fractious state in the history of Czech politics. Three new parties entered the Lower House: the Czech Pirate Party, the hard-right Eurosceptic SPD (Freedom and Direct Democracy), and STAN (Party of Mayors and Independents).
Perhaps most controversially, ANO and ČSSD have sought the support of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), which is the successor to the party that ruled communist Czechoslovakia. The KSČM consistently polls around 15%, with strongholds in the industrialised urban constituencies in the north-west of the country. Since 1989, political parties have adhered to an unspoken agreement to sideline the KSČM.
That is, until yesterday, when the minority coalition set up by Babiš announced it would be supported by the KSČM in a Confidence & Supply arrangement, making it the first time since the fall of western communism that the hard-left have wielded any national political power in Czechia. Prior to the entrance of ANO on to the Czech political stage, the KSČM was consistently the largest opposition party.
The results of the election in October 2017 showed that both the junior partner of the coalition, and the communists lost seats. In the case of the latter, a 16% share was sliced into a mere 7.8%, resulting in the loss of 18 of their 33 seats. The ČSSD fared worse however, and ended up coming sixth – after the KSČM – despite now serving in the government.
Opinion polls collected in June and released today, however, shows that both governing parties – and the communist party – would increase their vote share. The poll also includes an estimated turnout of 62% – an increase of over a percent – and indicates that two of the nine parties currently represented would not even meet the 5% threshold to enter the Chamber of Deputies.
While this poll does not change the current parliamentary arithmetic, it is an indicator of the mood within the Czech electorate after eight months without a government. Further, it shows that the people are willing to reward – rather than punish – junior and associate parties in a coalition, despite them placing at fifth and sixth places in the electoral result.
As with much of the western world, the left is in decline in Czechia. In the 2017 election, the then-leading ČSSD lost 35 of its 50 seats – equaling the number of the KSČM, but with 0.5% less of the vote share. Despite this, both parties are in the House of Deputies, much to the dismay of the centre-right, and that, far from being accused of “selling out”, both are polling significantly higher that the election results depict – albeit also significantly lower than their usual showings.
ANO is a centrist populist party set up by Andrej Babiš – Czech Republic’s second-richest man – in 2011. It has come under fire from both the left and the right, both accusing it of pandering too much to the other. While being labeled as “populist”, and Czech Republic being a member of the Visegrád Group, Babiš’s and Ano‘s policies are not what you might expect. Ano is a pro-EU party set up by Babiš in order to “run the state like a business” and “drain the swamp”, and after serving in the last government as Deputy Prime Minister, has been granted the confidence of the Czech people to serve now as the Prime Minister with 78 of the 200 seats in the House of Deputies.