Czech Republic - Politics

ANO 2011 47 78
ODS Civic Democratic Party 63 58 81 53 16 25
Pirate Party 22
Freedom and Direct Democracy 22
CSSD Czech Social Democratic Party 74 70 74 56 50 15
KSCM Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia 24 41 26 26 33 ...
Dawn 14 ...
VV Public Affairs 24 ...
TOP 09 Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 41 26 ...
SZ Green Party 6 ...
US Freedom Union 19 10 ...
KDU-CSL Christian Democratic Union-
Czechoslovak Peoples Party
20 21 13 14 ...

Superficially it would appear that economically, politically and culturally, Czech society is probably the most successful, and the most stable, of all post-communist societies. The "Velvet Revolution" of November 1989 which abruptly ended communist rule in Czechoslovakia differed significantly from the way in which the communist system was overthrown in other Eastern European countries. The political change in Czechoslovakia, in contrast with, for example, the Soviet Union or Bulgaria, was not instigated by the ruling elites and largely accepted below, but brought about by the open revolt of the population. Perhaps the most significant feature of the "Velvet Revolution" was that it was initiated by students, actors, and other intellectuals, whose publicly expressed opposition to the communist regime was swiftly followed by the masses.

Although the creation of a post-socialist social order in Czechoslovakia and in what became the independent Czech Republic in 1993 has many similarities with the process which is now under way particularly in Poland and Hungary, it too had its unique features. In post-1989 Czechoslovakia, Slovaks habitually blamed the Czechs and Czechs blamed the Slovaks for all the ills of their common socialist past.

Czechs are usually critical of politicians but foreigners are not supposed to volunteer their opinion on Czech politics. In the spirit of the 19th-century Czech national "awakener" Frantisek Palacky and the founder of the First Czechoslovak Republic T G Masaryk, many Western attempts to define the Czech national character in this century have often emphasised the democratic quality of the Czech nation.

Prague Castle, the seat of Czech kings, and now of Czech presidents, is a well-known site, while the seat of the government [the Strakov Academy] and the residence of the Czech prime minister are relatively unidentifiable buildings somewhere in the center of Prague. From the breakup of Czechoslovakia until today, the Czech political system has been shaped as a parliamentary democracy, even though the Constitution does not explicitly call it that. The government is responsible to the lower chamber of the Parliament, and until 2013, both chambers elected the head of state at a joint session.

Despite holding such an indirect mandate, the Czech president had never been simply a figurehead and always played an important role in Czech politics. The tradition of strong presidents started with the first Czechoslovak President T. G. Masaryk, his successor Edvard Beneš, and continuing with the communist presidents. With the introduction of direct presidential elections in 2013, the strong position of the Czech head of state was enhanced. The president has won his own legitimacy from the citizens themselves.

The results of the 2013 early elections in the Czech Republic re-ordered the political landscape. Seven parties entered parliament, among which the Social Democrats are the strongest with 20.5 per cent of votes. Yet this was the weakest showing of an election winner in the history of the Czech Republic. Almost all of the established parties recorded losses, and at just under 60 percent, voter turnout was one of the lowest since 1989.

With his only recently established ANO movement, business tycoon Andrej Babiš has managed to become the second-strongest force in the Chamber of Deputies right out of the gate, receiving 18.7 per cent of votes (the abbreviation ANO stands for “Action of Dissatisfied Citizens" and means “yes" in Czech). Babiš is its chairman, proprietor of the Czech agriculture and chemical corporation Agrofert, and since 2013 also owner of the Czech Republic’s largest media concern, Mafra, which publishes the dailies Mladá fronta Dnes and Lidové noviny. Since then, the foreign media have liked to describe Babiš as a “Czech Berlusconi". Babiš appealed to a dissatisfied and disillusioned electorate who no longer believe that politicians of the established parties can lead the country transparently. In the context of increasing mistrust of politics as such, the Czech electorate’s willingness to engage in alternatives with an uncertain course and goal seems extremely high.

There is a general trend in the West of a revolt against the traditional parties. They seem to be too rigid, too cumbersome, sometimes too corrupt and Babiš used this very skillfully in his campaign. He portrayed himself as an outsider who came to the Czech political mainstream to save the country and this has worked. The times are changing and the traditional parties, not just in the Czech Republic, are not very flexible in dealing with various new challenges associated with globalization and new challenges. People may feel that a party lead by an authoritarian leader may have more flexible answers.

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