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Czech Republic - Senatorial Elections

Senatorial elections - 5-6 november (1st round)

Senatorial elections - 5-6 november (1st round)

07/11/2004 - Results - 1st round

The Civic Democrat Party (ODS) easily won the first round of the senatorial by-elections that took place in the Czech Republic on 5 and 6 November 2004. Contrary to the forecasts made by the opinion polls that had all predicted that the Social Democrat Party (CSSD) would take second position - the ODS, the party led by the President of the Republic, Vaclav Havel came out ahead of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), the Christian Democrat Union (DKU-CSL) and finally the Social Democrat Party in power at present. One single candidate was elected outright in the first round - Jiri Sneberger, Mayor of Pilsen, a town lying in the west of the country, which easily beat Health Minister, Milada Emmerova (CSSD).

The second round will take place on 12 and 13 November when the two candidates who won the greatest number of votes will face each other in each of the 26 remaining constituencies. The candidates standing for the Civic Democrat Party will be represented in 25 constituencies, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia in nine, the Christian Democrat Union in seven and the Social Democrat Party in three constituencies only.

The participation rate was low, barely one third of the electorate voted in the election (29%). We should note however that this participation rate was slightly higher than that recorded during the last election in November 2002. Until the last minute of the campaign, all of the political parties had tried to convince the electorate to go to ballot. To do this the Social Democrat Party and the Civic Democrat Party had both organised a massive concert, one in Prague and the other in Kladno. For his part the former President of the Republic, Vaclav Havel also tried to mobilise the Czechs. "The Senate is an opportunity to play the role of referee, of being a body of wise men whose voice is heard at the right moment and that has a certain amount of influence", he declared.

The Social Democrat Party is therefore confronted with another electoral setback following that recorded after the European elections in June last. During that election the ruling party only won 8.78% of the vote versus 30.05% for the Civic Democrat Party with 20.7% going to the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. The Social Democrat Party even found itself lagging behind the Christian Democrat Union that won 9.58% of the vote. It seems that the scenario was repeated on 5 and 6 November; the appointment of former Interior Minister, Stanislav Gross as head of government on 4 August last did not change anything in terms of the state of play of the political parties as it stood at the start of last summer.

The European and senatorial elections are comparable in terms of the participation rate - both succeeded very badly in mobilising the electorate: the participation rate rose to 28.32% on 11 and 12 June last. This senatorial election is a failure for Stanislav Gross's government who set them as a test, with the next general elections, due in the Czech Republic in June 2006, on the horizon. "It is not a catastrophic result if we consider that in four months we have increased our score by around six points", declared the Prime Minister as he commented the election results. "The main problem is the participation rate. Parties such as the Civic Democrat Party and the Communist Party, whose electoral base is stable and whose voters more disciplined, had an advantage", he added.

"The lack of appealing candidates is the result of the genocide that has been going on within the Social Democrat Party for the past two or three years, a genocide that has led to the exclusion of especially talented people who have been replaced by others who are far less competent and not as talented", maintained unhesitatingly Milos Zeman, former Prime Minister (1998-2002) and the party's former president. In his opinion an improvement could only occur if there was a change in the party's statutes. Miroslav Kakousek, president of the Social Democrat Party announced that his party would stand down in favour of candidates from the Civic Democrat Party in those constituencies where both were standing against communist candidates.

The Civic Democrat Party led a tough campaign and did not hesitate in making the Social Democrat government look like a threat to the country's democracy. "This meeting is rather more like that of a top staff crisis for the defence of Human Rights and Freedom", declared the head of the Civic Democrat Party campaign, Petr Bendl during a pre-electoral meeting - he added, "Those who vote for the Social Democrats are voting for pre-November normalisation". For his part Prime Minister, Stanislav Gross repeated during the campaign that he wanted to clean opposition representatives out of the Senate, and did not hesitate in arriving with a brush in hand at a meeting on Mount Rip, a sacred place in Czech history. In this gesture some saw an unfortunate reminder of Lenin's words when he said he wanted to clean up Czarist Russia when he took over power.

"We are at war against the Civic Democrat Party and we are going to fight", declared Miroslav Grebenicek, leader of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia when the results were announced. He pointed to the absurdity of the so-called Bohumin Decision by which the Social Democrat Party refused any collaboration with the Communist party in 1995. "I think that when a Communist Party candidate faces a Civic Democrat Party candidate leftwing voters should support our candidate. And similarly I am convinced that our electorate would support the Social Democrat candidate in the constituencies where we don't have a candidate", he maintained. The KSCM, which is the last unreformed Communist party in Central Europe, is the heir of the Communist Party of the Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia. Many Czech organisations, who are worried about the rise of this party in the elections, have joined together and decreed "an autumn without Communists". For the 17 November, the anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution that ended the Communist regime in the Czech Republic, they have organised a major rally to say "no" to the return of former Communist Party members to positions of power. The party's management defends itself against the accusations made against it and maintains that it "respects democratic rules" and that it "did not want to return to post-war prohibitions and repression".

A third of the Senators, i.e. 27 of the 81 members of the Upper Chamber, one third of whom are re-elected every two years, put their mandate on the line on 5 and 6 November. Senators in the Czech Republic are elected for six year by a two round majority single member vote. The Senate is an institution that the country does not really like very much and its election generally does not raise much interest amongst voters.

The Czechs were also called to vote for 675 regional councillors. These are elected by proportional representation in one round for a four year period. The Czech Republic has 14 Regional Councils comprising 45 to 65 members depending on the population of the province (kraj). The inhabitants of Prague did not vote in these regional elections but will re-elect their Regional Council in 2006.

The senatorial elections, that are always by-elections, did not benefit from their timing with the regional elections, another election that raises little interest.

The Civic Democrat Party won in twelve of the thirteen provinces with 43.11% of the vote versus 23.26% for their main adversary, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. The Social Democrat Party won 15.56% of the vote and the Christian Democrat Union, 10.67%. The main opposition party will therefore hold 291 of the 675 seats in the Regional Councils, i.e. 106 more than during the last regional elections on 11 and 12 November 2000. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia won 157 seats, the Social Democrats 105 and the Christian Democrat Union, 72. The Union for Freedom (US-DEU) won 6 seats.

Finally we should note that in the 6th "borough" of Prague, Nebusice, inhabitants were also called to vote in the capital's first ever referendum, on the construction of a new runway at the town's airport. Most voters reject this construction that in their eyes will significantly damage their boroughs, as well as any neighbouring borough's environment.

On 12 and 13 November next the second round of the senatorial elections should confirm the victory and clear domination of the Civic Democrat Party in the Czech political arena.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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2nd roundResults