- The ruling Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) is continuing to lose voter support ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for 8-9 October.
- New spending initiatives could mitigate a decline in ANO’s popularity but are unlikely to reverse the negative trend.
- While the opposition Pirates and Mayors coalition is favorite to win the October vote, ANO could still get a first chance at forming a government.
The ruling ANO’s ratings have been following a downward trend since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in spring 2020, and the party now polls at its lowest point since 2013. The ANO-led government’s contentious and politicized management of the pandemic – including the replacement of three health ministers during the past year – is the single greatest reason behind its declining public support. The country has experienced three major waves of the pandemic since autumn, and the Covid-19 caseload and deaths per capita stand at nearly twice the EU average. An Eurobarometer survey conducted in February-March showed that only 24% of Czechs were satisfied with the measures taken by the government to tackle the pandemic. While the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind it, the country’s vaccination campaign is sluggish, and the ongoing economic reopening appears to be chaotic.
The recent stand-off with Moscow over alleged Russian involvement in the 2014 munitions depot explosions is unlikely to boost the ANO’s standing either. Despite a strong initial response – which included the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats – the government’s position has been compromised by inconsistencies on the domestic front. The Minister of Justice Maria Benesova (ANO) echoed the President Milos Zeman’s statements that the Russian involvement has not been confirmed yet. The ANO-led government could also suffer from swirling allegations that the First Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamacek (Czech Social Democratic Party, CSSD) planned to cover up Russia’s involvement in the 2014 explosions in exchange for Sputnik V vaccines and the right to host a US-Russian summit in Prague.
With the general elections approaching in October, political turmoil is unlikely to subside. The two main opposition coalitions – Pirates and Mayors as well as Together – are planning to initiate a vote of no-confidence in the government in early June. If announced, the outcome of the vote would hinge largely on the position of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), which withdrew its support for the Andrej Babis government in mid-April. In addition, the opposition will seek to capitalize on the recently published audit report by the European Commission, which concluded that Babis had violated the EU rules on conflict-of-interest, which might result in the Czech Republic returning EU subsidies.
The governing ANO and its junior coalition partner CSSD will likely fight back with populist policies ahead of the election. Babis has already voiced his intention to increase the average pensions in the country above CZK 16,000 (around EUR 626) in 2022, while the CSSD has floated several controversial proposals, including the extension of annual paid leave to five weeks (instead of four weeks now), shortening the work week to 37.5 hours (instead of 40 hours now) and introducing an automatic indexing of the minimum wage. While such measures could mitigate the decline in the governing parties’ ratings, they are unlikely to reverse the negative trend.
According to the polls, the opposition Pirates and Mayors coalition seems to be on track to win the October elections. However, government formation after the vote will not be straightforward as President Zeman – who has a constitutional right to nominate a prime minister-designate of his own choice – has previously pledged to entrust the winning party (not electoral coalition) with forming the next government. This could leave the door open for ANO to remain in office after the October election. In this context, a center-right coalition going by the name of Together – currently polling third – could emerge as a kingmaker after the vote.