Czech Senate Elections 20205 min read

 In Central Europe, News, Politics
Czechs have voted in two elections in October – to the regional councils and to the Senate. While both elections are quite unpopular and voter turnout is consistently low, this year’s results of the Senate elections show much about the citizens’ mood. The ruling parliamentary party ANO 2011 suffered defeat from opposition parties. While the party sent eighteen candidates to compete for the favor of voters, it only gained one new seat in the Senate.

The Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic is the upper chamber of the country’s parliament. It generally focuses on scrutinizing and possibly vetoing the decisions of the lower house. The Senate comprises 81 members, from which one third is elected every two years. If no candidate receives more than 50% of all votes in the first round of election, there is a second round between the two highest-placed candidates.

The value of the Senate is in its ability to check and balance the Chamber of Deputies. The results of its work are difficult to quantify because its power is limited and may be seen in a more spiritual way. The Senate is seen as the guardian of democracy and the rule of law; it serves as the protector of constitutionality. The Senate could be overridden by an absolute majority of all members of the lower house – at least 101 of 200 members. The questions of electoral or constitutional law and international treaties, however, cannot be avoided. The Senate uses its power to block unacceptable nominations or draft laws.

Senate elections 2020

In this year’s elections, 27 of the 81 seats were elected. The opposition parties won 26 seats and confirmed their dominance in the upper house. The elections can be seen as a victory for the Mayors and Independents, who had a three seat majority, but ultimately came out with 10 seats in total. The Civic Democrats came second with six seats, and the Christian Democrats placed the third with three seats. The Social Democrats, who are part of the governmental coalition, did not manage to secure a single seat and lost three existing senators including a former vice-president of the Senate, who has been in the upper chamber since 1996.

Voter turnout reached a surprisingly high 36.0% in the first round, while the second round registered only 15.8% of eligible voters. It may seem low, but it was a higher turnout than usual for the Senate election, except for one district where not even 8.0% of voters casted their ballots. The results of the Senate elections could be a sign of the citizens’ dissatisfaction; on the other hand, ANO 2011 has been unpopular in the Senate for a long time. The victory of the opposition in the Senate elections is nothing new, almost every government opposition aroused its supporters to vote in them. However, from a long-term perspective the process of building partnerships in the Senate between the opposition parties is more important than their actual number of seats. The alliances that were formed can predict the potential  coalitions for next year’s parliamentary elections.

The citizen’s trust in the government was affected by the restrictions imposed against the spread of Covid-19 and chaotic communication with the public. The current government has a constant problem communicating with the public. Their provisions are often misunderstood because the governmental rhetoric is confusing, lacks expert opinions or is built on unsubstantiated data..

What is going on in the background?

At the time of the second wave of Covid-19, these elections were not the usual boring and almost invisible event. Elections in 2020 in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic which has hit the Czech Republic unprepared was a test of the ruling party, ANO 2011. The striking question here is whether it is due to the pandemic or the profile of the voters. It is well known that the Senate elections are not so popular among the citizens and most of them cannot see the reason for having a bicameral parliament. Even the Prime minister, Andrej Babiš, said he did not pay any attention to these elections because his party is not popular in the Senate. It could be seen that some of the political elites are creating a narrative which is degrading the chamber and affecting the voter turnout. The Czech president and prime minister have mixed feelings towards the Senate. They have both suggested repealing it completely. The main reason is that the Senate complicates their political life and serves well its original purpose so the prime minister or the president cannot, for example, abolish the Senate without a wider consent.

A surprising fact of this particular election was the change of topics. The xenophobic and anti-migration card has been played succesfuly a number of times before, even during the last parliament and presidential elections. This time, economic stability and a strong program to get over the pandemic and the harsh restrictions already imposed have dominated this election.

The role of the Senate as the upper chamber in the bicameral Czech parliament is to check and balance. Although its importance is questioned by political elites and partly by the public as well, it has an irreplaceable position as a protector of democratic principles. In this year’s election opposition parties won overwhelmingly – they gained all seats except one. However, it is nothing surprising because non-governmental parties are usually more popular in the Senate. More interesting was the relatively high voter turnout during pandemic circumstances and the coming lockdown.

Featured image: Czech Senate Elections 2020 / Amanda Sonesson
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