Increasingly polarised
Thursday, 11 October 2012 13:37

CZECH POLITICS seems to be getting nastier. Polls indicate a far-right party could enter a regional assembly in the Czech Republic for the first time during regional elections on October 12th and 13th. A recent survey of high school students found far-left and right-wing parties are among the most popular. And a pellet gun attack at the end of September on President Václav Klaus by a self-proclaimed Communist Party (KSČM) supporter is casting political divisions in a new, less friendly light.

“It seems that a lot of people want to use their votes in the election as so-called protest votes. People are fed up with the current situation,” Jan Tuček, director of the STEM/MARK, a polling agency, told the weekly Týden.

The worst case scenario has the extreme right-wing Workers Party for Social Justice (DSSS) surpassing 5% of the vote and making it into the assembly of the northern region of Ustí, an economically-depressed, post-industrial area that has been the scene of violent clashes with the Roma community in recent years. The DSSS is successor to the earlier Workers Party, which was banned by the Constitutional Court in 2010 for ties to the Neo-Nazi movement. (The then DS and current DSSS leaders deny the allegations.) Prone to using xenophobic and anti-Roma rhetoric, the DSSS also has a chance to make it into the assembly of at least one more region, Plzeň.  Among high school students in the Ustí region, the DSSS is the most popular party. Among adult voters a party of the far-left, the KSČM, looks a likely winner,with more than 30% of the votes.    

Protest votes are nothing new as Czech voters have thrown their support to many a newcomer party in recent years, ostensibly as they seek alternatives to the corruption and gridlock associated with political stalwarts like the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS) and left-of-centre Social Democrats (ČSSD). In the 2006 general election, the Green Party made it into parliament and became part of a coalition government, before falling out of parliament in the next election. That vote, in 2010, saw two new parties, TOP 09 and Public Affairs, enter parliament and join the coalition government. Public Affairs has since largely disintegrated amid corruption scandals.

On October 12th and 13th voters will choose regional assemblies in 13 of the country’s 14 regions – everywhere but Prague. Voting is held in conjunction with the first round of Senate elections. At present, the ČSSD heads governments an all 13 regions up for grabs and looks set to maintain much of that advantage. The ČSSD sits in opposition at the national level and the inability of the ODS-TOP 09 coalition government to deliver on its major reform plans has an already unpopular government also looking incompetent.

Newcomer left-wing parties are making hay in the polarised political environment as well. Mirroring trends in neighbouring Germany, the pro-Internet freedom Czech Pirate Party has also seen its popularity grow in recent months. It is the most popular single party among high schoolers nationwide, favoured by some 23% of students. If Czech voters think politics are unstable now, one wonders what things would look like with a pirate at the helm.

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