After the Czech Republic held presidential and parliamentary elections in 2013, there is less at stake in the 2014 European Parliament elections for the country’s major parties, compared to other EU member states.
Nevertheless, recent developments on the domestic political scene make it a crucial test for the two major partners in the ruling coalition – the ČSSD of prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka and ANO, led by finance minister Andrej Babiš.
Populist ANO (an acronym for “action of dissatisfied citizens”, but also Czech for “yes”) was a surprising runner-up in last year’s parliamentary elections, losing only by a narrow margin to the ČSSD, despite existing for less than two years at that point.
Bankrolled by billionaire Babiš, the country’s second-richest man who also owns two of the country’s leading dailies, it has avoided – so far, at least – the post-election slump that often plagues the recipients of protest votes.
In fact, the party appears to have attracted many of voters disappointed by the traditional centre-right parties, and has surged up in opinion polls since joining the government, with a recent survey by local pollsters TNS AISA giving it a double-digit lead over ČSSD (28.5 per cent versus 18.5 per cent, respectively).
ANO’s participation in the government coalition is crucial to the current cabinet’s continued survival. That, coupled with the party’s large lead in opinion polls, has recently caused some friction within the coalition, with Babiš insisting that the party that wins the most votes in the European Parliament election should be given the right to nominate Czech Republic’s next European commissioner.
The margin of victory could prove crucial – would ANO stay content with playing second fiddle to ČSSD if it wins decisively and does not get its wish for the EC nomination?
Although turnout is expected to be low, that could play into the party’s hands, as Eurosceptics tend to do even better in European Parliament elections than domestic ones – ANO opposes the adoption of the euro and has moderate Eurosceptic stances on other issues.
In addition to ČSSD and ANO, four more parties (from a record 38 that have registered for the vote) are expected to win MEP seats – the communists run third in the polls, followed by centre-right ODS and TOP 09 parties, as well as the populist party Dawn, which campaigns for more direct democracy.
The Czech Republic is the only EU member state that will hold the election over two days, May 23 and 24, with 21 seats in the European Parliament at stake, one fewer than the country is entitled to now.
(Photo of Prague: Gisela Royo/sxc.hu)