October 4, 2021

Europe

CZECH REPUBLIC: ANO set to win, but government formation could get complicated

BY Andrius Tursa

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  • The ruling Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) is set to win the elections to the Chamber of Deputies and get a first chance at forming the next cabinet.
  • ANO’s prospects of securing a majority in parliament depend largely on the performance of its potential coalition partners/supporters, some of which may struggle to pass the 5% electoral threshold.
  • Government formation will get more complicated and protracted if the two opposition coalitions (Together and Pirates and Mayors) secure an absolute majority of mandates.

Around 8.4mn Czech voters hold a right to elect the 200 members of the Chamber of Deputies (lower chamber of parliament) for a four-year term. Deputies are elected under a proportional system with open lists in 13 regional districts and the capital Prague. To enter parliament, individual parties need to get at least 5% of votes nationwide; the threshold for electoral coalitions consisting of two parties is 8%, and electoral lists comprised of three parties need to get at least 11%.

Polling stations will open on Friday, 8 October, at 2pm and close on Saturday, 9 October, at 2pm local time. Results should be near-final around 7pm local time (6pm London, 1pm New York).

CZECH REPUBLIC: ANO set to win, but government formation could get complicated 1

Opinion surveys show notable shifts in voter preferences in the past few months. The ruling ANO has regained the lead and now polls at around 27% on the back of the improved epidemiological situation and an aggressive electoral campaign marked by the return of more nationalist and anti-migrant rhetoric. However, the ruling party’s momentum might be weakened by Prime Minister (PM) Andrej Babis’ admission – following a recent Pandora Papers leak – of having bought 16 properties in France via offshore companies in 2009 (prior to entering politics). Opposition parties are already demanding a comprehensive investigation into Babis’ transactions.

Meanwhile, ANO’s campaign targeted liberal policies promoted by the Pirates and Mayors coalition, whose ineffective response eroded its ratings to around 18.6% (down from nearly 28% in March). The Pirates and Mayors have also been overtaken by the three-party conservative coalition Together, polling at 21.2%. The far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party maintains a stable voter base of around 10.6% and is also set to enter parliament. Meanwhile, the center-left Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), along with the left-wing Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) and a populist newcomer, the Oath, are balancing on the edge of the 5% threshold.

Zeman key to government formation

According to the constitution, the president appoints a PM of his choice after the election. There is no deadline for the appointment, but once it is made, the new PM has 30 days to win a vote of confidence by an absolute majority (101/200) of votes in the lower chamber of parliament.

President Milos Zeman has already signaled his intention to appoint the leader of the winning party (not an electoral coalition) as PM. As a result, Babis is expected to get the first try at forming a government. Since ANO is unlikely to win an absolute majority of seats, Babis’ prospects of securing parliament’s backing hinge on the performance and post-election negotiations with potential coalition partners/supporters: SPD, CSSD, KSCM, and the Oath (if the latter three enter parliament). If these parties together secure an absolute majority of mandates, another ANO-led government would become highly likely. From the policy perspective, this would mean continuity, although a potential partnership with the Eurosceptic SPD could strengthen populist rhetoric and raise concerns about the country’s geopolitical orientation.

Government formation would get more complicated if the two opposition coalitions, Together and Pirates and Mayors, secured an absolute majority of mandates. Given their fractious relations with President Zeman, they might struggle in securing the president’s nomination for PM. Instead, Zeman could opt for a less controversial ANO politician than Babis or an independent PM. Given the lack of constitutional deadlines to appoint a PM, it cannot be ruled out that the president will attempt to drag out the government formation process, possibly even until the end of his term in March 2023.

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