Prime minister Andrej Babiš’s party narrowly lost in the Czech Republic’s parliamentary election. For the left, the result was a disaster: both social democrats and communists failed to enter Parliament.
With 27.8% the SPOLU (Togther) coalition, consisting of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), and Liberal Democratic Party (TOP 09), received the most votes; the next largest vote share – 27.1% – went to Babiš’s movement ANO (Yes), which received 29.6% in 2017; next came the coalition of the Pirati (Pirate party) and STAN (The Mayors and Independents) at 15.6%; SPD Movement (Freedom and Direct Democracy, a right-wing Eurosceptical party) at 9.6% (10.6% in 2017). The parties that were unable to enter the Chamber of Deputies were the ČSSD (social democrats), which got 4.7% of votes (7.3% in 2017), a new party, Movement Oath, got 4.7% as well, and the KSČM (communist party) with 3.6% (7.8% in 2017).
The share of seats in the Chamber is now as follows: ANO: 72 seats (-6 seats compared to 2017), Coalition SPOLU: 71 seats (the largest gain of any party compared to 2017), KDU-ČSL 13 seats, Coalition PIRATI + STAN (difference compared to 2017: STAN + 27 and PIRATI – 18 seats), SPD 20 seats (-2 seats).
The difference between Prague and the rest of the republic has widened. The capital voted significantly differently from the state electoral regions: the coalition SPOLU won 40%, PIRATI + STAN 22.6%, ANO 17.5%, SPD 4.6%, ČSSD 4.0%, and KSČM 2.1%.
Territorially, ANO won in 6 electoral regions, in 8 regions the SPOLU coalition.
The turnout was 65.4% of eligible voters (60.8% in the previous parliamentary elections), with the highest turnout in Prague at 70.2%.
About 1 million votes were ‘lost’ (votes received by parties and movements that could not enter Parliament) of a total of 5.4 million-vote turnout.
In terms of the popularity of individual personalities (the so-called preferential votes), the best result in absolute number of votes (for the whole country) was achieved by STAN chairman Vit Rakušan, while former Prime Minister Babiš (ANO) placed fourth. Among the left candidates, Jana Maláčová (ČSSD) did best, achieving the 117th place, followed by the chairman of the ČSSD, Jan Hamáček, at 177th. Of the KSČM candidates, chairman Vojtĕch Filip won the most preferential votes (327th place, 19.9% of votes in his district); next best was Jiří Dolejš (431st place – 16.7% of votes in his district).
In general, the current two winning coalitions focused their election campaign primarily on the ‘struggle against Babiš’. They focused far less on key political and social issues.
In only four electoral regions the ČSSD exceeded the 5% threshold (with 6.5% as its highest result); the KSČM, however, nowhere exceeded 5% (its highest result was 4.6%). The Left Party, Levice, also ran in the elections (formed by the merger of the SDS with other left-wing groups). It ran in 3 regions and nowhere achieved a result superior to 0.04%. Thus it failed in representing itself as a new left alternative. The Greens (considered left by some) reached 0.99%.
The percentage loss for the ČSSD compared to the 2017 elections was 65, for the KSČM it was 46.4% (by way of comparison, last month the German LINKE dropped 53% below its 2017 level of votes).
Both chairs of the left-wing parties (ČSSD and KSČM) resigned. In the KSČM, MEP Kateřina Konečná declared that she would vie for the party presidency at the election congress at the end of this month.
The election results did not confirm the idea that there is demand for a ‘new’ left party and that only ‘traditional’ left parties are losing. Despite a fairly active and well-developed contact campaign, Levice did not succeed. Some media (even the liberal left) have declared the Pirate Party to be the new (modern?) parliamentary left. However, they turned out to be another big loser in this election (with 18 seats lost they will not even be able to establish a separate parliamentary group). Preference votes for communist candidates show that there is no particular demand among voters for traditional (‘revolutionary’ and ‘communist’) politics and that at the same time ‘moder left’ currents also did not garner preferential votes.
The earthquake on the left side of the political spectrum was expected. What is disturbing is the ‘quantitative’ aspect of the decline.
The KSČM’s situation is more complicated than that of the ČSSD. Its core constituency is the largest, but also the most age-consistent (over 65 years). It will require an almost superhuman effort to reconcile the ideas of traditional and older communist voters with the need to attract a larger young electorate.
There is a real possibility that both traditional left parties – the ČSSD and the KSČM – may split. Formally, the ČSSD is closer to this point, where the defeated wing from the Spring Assembly is ‘in waiting’. The KSČM’s situation is far more confusing. There are a number of internal factions with diametrically opposed outlooks or sensibities (in terms of programmatic differences, but also involving personal animosities).
Both parties will face major challenges in maintaining their parties’ functionality with significantly more limited financial resources.
In terms of candidate popularity, the current ČSSD is in a much better situation, as two very visible faces: Jana Maláčová, the 40-year-old former Minister of Social Affairs, and Matĕj Stropnický, who ran as a non-partisan, formerly with the Green Party. In the KSČM, even preferential votes did not single out significant (and new) personalities who could be the basis for a new party leadership.
For the KSČM will be the most important and necessary process is to transform the party from a ‘confederation’ of relatively powerful district organisations to a party significantly more reflective of the ideas of its supporters and potential voter base, the same goes for the ČSSD, but there the process will presumably be less controversial and painful.
The Czech left is now facing the dilemma of how to move forward. Perhaps, for a start, it would be important to postpone mutual struggles and conflicts within the left and search for at least a minimal platform as a basis for cooperation.
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