Following the Austrian example, also the Czech Republic will hold legislative elections this October. On the 20th and the 21st, citizens will go to the polling stations to elect the members of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the bicameral Parliament of the country.
These elections are particularly important for the European Union, and not only because the country is notoriously Eurosceptic. They are also the first in Eastern Europe after EU officials started seriously contemplating the idea of a multi-speed Europe. The winning party or coalition will decide the Czech position on this issue. As one of the countries which would most likely remain outside of the core, its opinion will be fundamental in shaping whether and how this idea will be put in practice.
The Chamber of Deputies is composed of 200 members elected for four-year terms. In order to
obtain a working majority, parties need to obtain at least 101 seats. Each of the 14 constituencies returns a varying number of candidates to the legislative organ depending on its size. The leader of the resulting government – whether a single party or a coalition – will also become the Prime Minister, the most powerful office in state.
The elections are based on the concept of open list proportional representation. Parties present a candidate electoral list in each region they decide to run in, which voters can personalise by indicating up to four preferences. Candidates who obtain at least 5% of preferential votes in a party list have priority in getting a mandate. In order to avoid too much splintering in seat affiliation, the Czech Republic applies a progressive threshold for entry into the Chamber: 5% for single parties, 10% for two-party coalitions, 15% for three-party coalitions, and 20% for coalitions of four and more parties.
There are over 30 parties which have put forward candidate lists in at least one constituency. However, there are only five main contenders in the race, the same parties which currently make up most of the Chamber of Deputies.
With 50 seats, the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), a centre-left and pro-European party, was the most popular during the 2013 election. As such, it led a coalition government together with ANO 2011 and the Christian and Democratic Union. Its first partner is a centrist and populist party based on liberalism and spectral-syncretic politics, founded in 2011 by entrepreneur Andrej Babiš. The second partner, the Christian and Democratic Union, is founded on the principles of social conservatism, pro-Europeanism, and Christian democracy.
The opposition is composed of three main parties. In first place, there is the Communist Party (KSČM). This Eurosceptic force is currently the third largest party in the country, although it has never managed to become part of any coalition government since the advent of democracy in the Czech Republic. While it has moved closer to the ČSSD in recent years, its platform still runs on left-wing ideals, with a significant presence of far left-wing exponents.
The second party is TOP 09, also known as Tradition Responsibility Prosperity. This centre-right party takes on liberal conservative and Christian democratic traits, as well as being the biggest pro-EU party after the Social Democrats. A further opposition party is represented by the Civic Democratic Party, yet another liberal conservative party, but with Eurosceptic and nationalist tendencies.
One of the key priorities of all hopeful governments is wage growth, to catch up with the Western neighbours and improve the economic conditions of the country. The ČSSD’s manifesto has promised to raise the average monthly Czech salary to 40,000 CZK (about 1,520 euros) by 2022. In the first quarter of 2017, these averaged 27,889 CZK. Other proposals involve raising the minimum wage from 11,000 CZK to 16,000 CZK, lowering taxes on individuals and small-sized companies, introducing progressive taxation, and raising child benefits payments by one-third.
Centre-right and right-wing parties have firmly rejected such suggestions, accusing the social democrats of trying to bribe citizens into voting for them without being able to deliver on their promises. Their plans, instead, involve promoting larger companies with tax cuts to promote and supporting the current flat tax system.
When it comes to social issues, the Czech Republic is notoriously very conservative. In a country where the large majority of the population is against accepting Muslim refugee, it should come to no surprise that even the leader of the Social Democrats in anti-immigration hardliner, who has been at the forefront of the resistance against EU-imposed migrant quotas.
The EU has also been at the centre of discussions during this campaign.
With the exception of ANO, all parties have adopted a firm stance on the topic. While both TOP 09 and the Christian and Democratic Union are pro-EU, all other parties have adopted a firm Eurosceptic stance. ANO is the only outlier on this issue; with a preference for pragmatic and non-ideological politics, its leader Babiš has a quite flexible approach on the matter, with seemingly ample success. While ANO declares itself to be pro-integration, it also promotes using the EU for national interests, in particular economic growth, and is firmly opposed to the entry of the country in the Eurozone. And with only one third of Czech citizens saying that EU membership is a “good thing”, the businessman has been unsurprisingly very cautious with supporting the European cause.
While Babiš’s position is fragile due to the amount of scandals which surround him, he can count on his opponents being even weaker. Following a common trend in other centre-left parties all over Europe, the ČSSD has been suffering from a sharp decline in popularity ever since the last elections. The polls predict it to fall to around 13%, only slightly more than KSČM. TOP 09 might not even clear the 5% hurdle, while the Civic Democratic Party has made gains and is prospected to gain around 9% of the preferences.
ANO is the primary beneficiary of other parties’ difficulties. With over 30% of prospected votes, its lead on the other parties is over 15 points. The absence of any expressly pro-EU party is looking like a very likely probability in the new Czech government, which in this moment in time is worrying the echelons of the European institutions. It is a delicate moment in time for EU reforms and in the fight for further integration, and the Czech Republic seems set to oppose Brussels in its every move.