October 10, 2021

Europe

CZECH REPUBLIC: Opposition wins but government formation depends on Zeman

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 3 mins)

The three-party center-right coalition Together achieved an unexpected victory in the 8-9 October elections for the lower chamber of parliament and is best- positioned to form the next government. However, the timing and process of government formation depends on President Milos Zeman and his health condition, following his hospitalization.

The pro-European Together coalition significantly outperformed pre-election projections and secured 27.8% of votes, leaving the ruling Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) in a close second place with 27.1%. As anticipated, a liberal alliance of Pirates and Mayors came in third with 15.6%, although the result is underwhelming for the coalition, which earlier this year was seen as favorite to win the electoral contest. The far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) got 9.6% and will be the last party to enter parliament. Voter turnout reached 65.4% – the highest level since 1998.

The election result has reaffirmed the continued decline of the left – already evident in the 2017 elections – as both the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) failed to pass the 5% electoral threshold and will not be represented in the lower chamber of parliament for the first time since the early 1990s.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Opposition wins but government formation depends on Zeman 1

Government formation now depends on Zeman’s actions and, most importantly, health. After briefly meeting Prime Minister Andrej Babis earlier today, 10 October, Zeman was rushed to the military hospital in Prague in a reportedly serious condition. Zeman’s personal doctor noted that president was experiencing complications related to some of his chronic illnesses without revealing more information or outlook for his condition.

According to the country’s constitution, if the president cannot perform his duties for serious reasons or if the president passes away while in office, the president’s duties are distributed between the prime minister and speakers of both chambers of parliament. The president’s right to appoint a prime minister after the general election would then rest with the newly elected speaker of the lower chamber of parliament, who is likely to come from the Together coalition. Such a situation would pave the way for a potentially smooth approval of a coalition government between Together as well as Pirates and Mayors, which combined hold 108 seats in the 200-member lower chamber of parliament and have already signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperating after the election.

If Zeman recovers and continues his duties, he would likely stick to his previous promise to nominate incumbent Babis to form the next cabinet. Babis would then have 30 days to win a vote of confidence in the lower house of parliament. ANO intends to negotiate with Together, hoping to break the unity of three-party coalition. Although some members of Together had indicated their openness to cooperation with ANO prior to the election, such a scenario appears unlikely. Babis may also hold talk with the far-right SPD, but its support alone would not be sufficient for ANO to reach an absolute majority.

If Babis cannot secure support for this cabinet, the president could potentially delay the nomination of a new PM for months thereby keeping the Babis cabinet in office in a caretaker capacity. However, such an attempt to obstruct the appointment of a new democratically elected government would put immense political pressure on Zeman and could trigger public protests.

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