PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – Scheduled to take place on October 2 and 3, the Czech regional elections are set to be a pressure test for the strategy of the governing ANO party and also the opposition before next year’s legislative elections.
The elections are held in 13 regions (excluding Prague) amid the worst period of the coronavirus crisis that the country has experienced so far. On these two days, Czechs will also elect one third of the 81-member Senate.
During the 2016 election, the populist ANO party led by PM Andrej Babiš won the most, 176, seats in regional councils, followed by the Social democrats (ČSSD) 125, Communists (KSČM) 86, Civic democrats (ODS) 76, Christian democrats (KDU-ČSL) 61, and the Mayors (STAN) 36.
All eyes on ANO
As the number of coronavirus infections continues reaching record highs, it is likely that this will reflect on the election results for the governing coalition, especially ANO which is in control of the Ministry of Healthcare.
According to opinion polls, voter confidence for ANO started decreasing in recent weeks – mostly due to the mismanaged response to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. But there are other concerns as well.
A major worry for ANO is that many elderly voters – the majority of its voter base – might stay at home during the elections rather than risk being infected. This was already demonstrated during the 2020 Polish Presidential elections.
Recently ANO was also forced to deal with a major corruption scandal in Brno involving the local leadership and some of the main figures of the party. This is especially troublesome, considering that ANO was originally founded by Babiš as an anti-corruption movement. For some of its voters, the scandal can cast doubt on the anti-corruption image.
Although all eyes will be set on the final vote count for ANO, the elections present an important test for the strategy of the opposition.
A pressure test for all
The opposition has been trying to cooperate more closely than ever before to gain control over the regions, hoping that this could create a springboard for the 2021 legislative elections.
The centrist Christian democrats and the regionalist Mayors have joined forces with the Pirates, the center-right liberals (TOP09) and the right-wing conservative Civic democrats in trying to defeat the dominant ANO.
Out of the five, TOP09 is in the worst position as its traditional stronghold has always been Prague. Although it previously tried to form a one-party list with STAN, this fell through.
The Pirates, on the other hand, will likely see the elections as a massive success. According to opinion polls, they will possibly be among the biggest opposition parties in the regions.
But as the last regional elections showed, some opposition parties will probably forge governing coalitions with ANO, if they do not manage to acquire enough votes to form a working coalition amongst themselves.
Meanwhile, the Social democrats, and the Communists, are projected to be the losers of the elections. Currently, their goal is to minimize the damage and uphold at least some of their traditional voter strongholds.
On the other side of the spectrum, the populist far-right SPD will probably lose some of its vote-share to the newly founded eurosceptic Trikolóra.
And with so much at stake for so many involved, the regional elections can definitely shuffle the cards ahead of the 2021 legislative elections. For the leaders of parties like the Social democrats and Civic democrats, a disastrous election outcome has the potential of triggering party earthquakes.
By Matej Voda