Czech elections

Following general elections Saturday, the Czech Republic should have “the strongest government in years” (Deutsche Welle). It will be a government of the center-right, notwithstanding a NY Times headline that might lead one to believe otherwise: “Left Wins Czech Vote, but Right Makes Gains.”

To be clear, the Social Democrats did win the highest vote total, but it was just 22.1%. The combined parties of the right won a majority of seats, with the largest among them being the Civic Democrats, with 20%. Two new parties of the right, TOP 09, with 16.7%, and Public Affairs, with 10.9%, will form the next government in coalition with the Civic Democrats.

So we have here a case in which the largest party in a parliamentary democracy will not form a government, because it lacks allies. There was a clear shift to the right in the electorate’s preferences–the three parties of the right will have 118 of the 200 parliamentary seats, aided by the 5% threshold–despite a center-left party being the single largest.

On the intra-party dimension of the country’s “flexible list” system, Roman Chytilek, a specialist on Czech parties, informs me that this time 48 legislators were elected purely on preference votes (i.e. their party-given rank would have been too low for them to win without preference votes). Only 86 incumbents were reelected (down from 115 in 2006). In addition, 44 women were elected (up from 31 in 2006); fourteen of them due to preference votes.

In this election, voters were allowed to cast four preference votes, up from two in 2006.

The Greens and Christian Democrats, both of which were allies of the Civic Democrats at the last election, failed to cross the 5% threshold.

5 thoughts on “Czech elections

  1. Is the Czech system of PR disproportionate? There were a lot of parties below the 5% threshold that got significant number of votes.

    This is a rare case of where the second largest party forms a government, and denies the largest party, the plurality winner the ability to form a government. It seems odd to me that the two largest parties are only three seats apart yet. The Social Democrats got 22% and the Civic Democrats got 20% of the vote.

    Does the Czech system of PR use only multi member districts with no nation wide tier to balance out the proportionality?

  2. As it happens, the largest party being out of government is a not-too-infrequent scenario in Scandinavia: the Social Democratic/Labour parties there are usually well ahead of their competitors, but every so often the smaller right-of-center parties will secure an overall parliamentary majority and form the government. In fact, this has been the case in Sweden since 2006.

    The current Czech PR electoral system relies exclusively on multi-member constituencies; there is no national compensation tier since 2002, although there is a five percent nationwide threshold for individual parties (higher thresholds are in place for coalition tickets). Moreover, seats are allocated by the largest average method – the D’Hondt rule – so the system tends to favor the larger parties; my website’s Czech Republic page has further details (and 2010 election results).

  3. Indeed, Scandinavia provides most of the cases of a largest party leading the opposition, rather than the government. Israel is currently one such case.

    One of the most remarkable cases would be Japan after the 1993 election, when the LDP had 43% of seats, and more than three times as many as the next largest, yet all the non-LDP and non-Communist parties joined a coalition. It did not last long, but it had an impact: electoral reform.

    Perhaps a rarer aspect of the Czech Republic is an electoral system in which a party could “win” a seat in a district, yet actually lose it for failing to pass a national threshold. (Did I understand you correctly on that, Manuel?) I know Turkey has such a provision, with a very high threshold. Maybe Sweden? But I think it is not common.

  4. Indeed, there was some advantage for the larger parties in the recent election. The Social Democrats had the advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) 1.26, the Civic Democrats 1.30, TOP 09 1.22, the Communists 1.16 and Public Affairs 1.10 (all digits above 1 because of lot of wasted votes).

    Generally, securing about 10% of the vote usually means the party has the ratio not lower than 1 under the current Czech electoral system. Lower result + homogenously spread support may cause some serious problems, as was the case of the Greens in 2006 (6,22% votes, 6 seats, advantage ratio 0.48).

    And yes, party can win a seat in a district but lose it due to failing to pass the national threshold. Was it not for this provision, the Christian Democrats with their concentrated support would get 4-5 seats in the recent election.

  5. Yes, Matthew, in the Czech Republic parties that fall below the threshold are excluded from the constituency-level seat allocation process, even in constituencies in which their vote totals would otherwise be enough to win a seat.

    By contrast, in Sweden the electoral law provides for a constituency-level waiver clause, which allows parties that have fallen short of the nationwide four percent threshold to take part in the allocation of seats in constituencies where they have received at least twelve percent of the vote.

    By the way, had there been no nationwide threshold and had Czech voters cast their ballots the same way, the distribution of Chamber of Deputies seats in the 2010 general election would have been as follows:

    CSSD – 51
    ODS – 48
    TOP 09 – 40
    KSCM – 25
    VV – 23
    KDU-CSL – 5
    SPOZ – 5
    Suverenita – 2
    SZ – 1

    In all, the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats would have won five fewer seats each, while TOP 09, the Communists and Public Affairs would have had one seat less each; these thirteen seats would have gone to the Christian Democrats, the Party of Citizens’ Rights, Sovereignity and the Greens, for a total of nine parties with parliamentary representation.

    Interestingly, the five parties that actually won seats in the election would have all remained over-represented, albeit in a less pronounced manner.

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