Senate election was held on 2-3rd October in the Czech Republic alongside the regional election, followed by the second round a week later. One-third of the 81-member Senate is elected every two years, and rather predictably, the opposition parties proved to have a dominant position in Parliament’s upper house. The governing coalition parties ANO led by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and ČSSD (Social Democrats) failed miserably. Why nobody seems to be concerned?
Mayors and Independent Took Most of the Seats
The Senate was dominated after 2018 election by two right-wing parties STAN (Mayors and Independent) and ODS (The Civil Democrats), each holding 16 seats. Therefore, it was predictable that the upcoming election would be a duel between them. After all, a victory of the opposition in the Czech Senate is an unwritten rule.
Centrist and right-wing parties won 18 out of 27 seats available this time. STAN managed to reach the most voters and strengthened its senatorial club. ODS came in second followed by KDU-ČSL (Cristian Democrats). The results are a welcoming encouragement for the opposition to challenge the ANO movement’s hegemony in next year’s general election.
Without any doubts, the election is a victory for STAN. Its leader, Vít Rakušan, attributes the results to a fact that the party has a strong position in the regions along with the nominated candidates who have a significant link to these areas. They have managed to reach even regions which were formerly ruled by the traditional parties. The party also takes advantages of a low ideological ground which is more acceptable for a certain group of voters. Rakušan claims the party to be no longer a regional movement but a national political force. However, the movement electoral preferences had oscillated around three and five per cent during last year,hardly enough to exceed the 5 per cent threshold required to enter the Parliament.
The following challenge for winning parties is to figure out whether to keep the current Senate speaker Miloš Vystrčil (ODS) or to elect a new one. Since STAN has the biggest Senate club currently, they might try to claim the office. In fact, this is the second-highest executive position in the country, and it has recently found itself in the political spotlight due to an official visit of Taiwan which Vystrčil carried out despite strong opposition from President Zeman.
The Senate Has no Support of PM nor President
Both coalition parties ANO and ČSSD are aware that the Senate election is not as important for their voters as for those who vote for the opposition. ANO neither invested significant capital either effort in the campaign. Babiš did not try to appeal to voters as the election appeared to be lost even before it started. Out of eight ANO candidates advancing to the second round, only one succeeded. After that, Babiš stated that he did not even follow the results.
Social Democrats, the second coalition party, failed to defend their seats that were at stake. Apart from losing annual contribution for the seats, this debacle means losing a right to form a senatorial club and it goes hand in hand with a chance being involved in the Senate Committees.
Moreover, Babiš makes no secret of his attitude towards the Senate. He speaks about the Senate as a powerless and unnecessary institution for a country of the size of the Czech Republic. More than once he has called upon to start a discussion whether to have the Senate at all. His arguments include a lost competence to elect a president (in 2012), high operating cost or a fact that senators in his opinion slow down the legislation process. Not only the PM but also President Zeman does not spare the Senate and refers to a purposeless institution especially when senators act against his will.
The Senate plays an important role in passing constitutional amendments, approving constitutional court judges and more importantly safeguards democracy. However, as mentioned above, the election is rather inferior for voters. Usually, up to twenty per cent of the most motivated voters go to the polls – those who long for a change and want to express disappointment with the government. This reluctance to vote is multiplied by Zeman and Babiš who have been attacking the Senate for years. With few exceptions, election to the upper house is won by those who are not currently involved in the governance of the state. As a rule, people tend to vote in such a manner to balance power between the government and the Senate. Anyway, the abolition of the Senate would require a constitutional amendment and so it is inconceivable that senators would participate in liquidation of their own existence.
Despite expected low voter turnout, the results provide a key insight regarding the upcoming 2021 general election that will determine whether ANO keeps its hegemony. However, based on the latest opinion polls, the movement would win with 24,5 per cent (3 per cent less than before the election) which would have been the lowest electoral gain since 2017. On the contrary, STAN movement came in the fourth place, strengthening to 9,5 per cent (3 per cent more than before the election).