Jan Macháček


Výsledky hledání

Czech Business Weekly

No landslide, but clear message of apathy

06. 11. 2006
The Civic Democrats (ODS) won 14 seats in the Senate and gained an absolute majority of 41 mandates in the 81-seat upper house, a historic first for the center-right party.

President Václav Klaus, the party founder, said the results (following ODS’ victory in the June elections for the lower house of Parliament) sent a clear message that everyone must understand. He declined to spell it out, but the only way to read it is: the will of the people is for the ODS to govern.

Unlike the president, we’re not so certain how to interpret the results of the Senate contest. After the first round of elections to the Senate, the ODS had a chance to win 26 seats out of 27, but in the end won 14, “only” about half. Voter turnout for the second round was very low, just over 20 percent. One in 10 registered voters cast a ballot for the ODS, so the clear message is rather that of voter apathy, and Klaus is only right if we consider the electorate who actually voted.

A general pattern has emerged wherein the electorate supports candidates to the Senate from whichever party or parties did poorly in the most recent elections renewing the lower house: Czechs have a tendency to seek a balance of power. This time around was different, due to the delay in forming a government following the 100-100 stalemate in the lower house. The government of ODS chairman Mirek Topolánek hadn’t been in office long enough to provoke this tendency; rather many people voted against the Social Democrats (ČSSD), although they’d been out of power for nearly two months.

The Senate is meant to balance out power, serving as a sort of council of wise elders who monitor and correct draft legislation. With the ODS now enjoying an absolute majority, until elections in two years’ time, strong non-ODS personalities like Senators Karel Schwarzenberg, Jaromír Štětina and Petr Pithart will have little to do (until elections for another one-third of the seats); they will speak out on the floor and, occasionally, see their speeches broadcast on public television at three o’clock in the morning. ODS party discipline is traditionally strong, even in the Senate, which was intended as a body of more independent minds. If the ODS gets strong results in the next parliamentary elections, the current Senate will simply rubber stamp their lower house brethren’s proposals, and more ODS initiatives will reach Klaus’ desk.

The low voter turnout provoked discussion about how to change the Constitution and the Senate, discussions that will be very short lived, unfortunately. But the matters discussed are important. The Senate should strengthen somewhat and thereby see its prestige and influence grow. The lower house should transfer to it the right to initiate investigative committees, for example.

As for the most interesting points and questions about recent municipal elections, first is the money. Experts estimate that Prague Mayor Pavel Bém’s (ODS) campaign must have cost between Kč 60 million–80 million (€ 2.1 million–2.8 million), although Bém puts the figure at Kč 15 million. Something stinks. Secondly, although Topolánek spoke publicly against local grand coalitions between the ODS and ČSSD — including on the municipal level — these are formed all the time, with alliances formed and dissolved mainly on the basis of construction and other big public contracts. Just look at the Kč 40 billion transfer from the city center of the Brno railway station, or Prague’s Olympic aspirations.

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