Czech & Slovak news

Czechs go to the polls tonight and tomorrow (Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, local time – an interesting idea) to choose their new president, the country’s fourth. Retired general Petr Pavel is a firm favorite.

The first round of the presidential election was held two weeks ago: see my preview here. It produced no surprises; Pavel led with 35.4%, about 23,000 votes ahead of former prime minister Andrej Babiš on 35.0%. Danuše Nerudová, despite a good showing in the opinion polls, was a long way back with 13.9%, and none of the other five reached double figures – senator Pavel Fischer did best, with 6.8%.

All of the other candidates have endorsed Pavel for the runoff, with the exception of the far right’s Jaroslav Bašta, who placed fifth with 4.5%. So despite his narrow first-round lead, Pavel starts with a big advantage. Even so, the GEHSC projection released last week gives him only 53.5% to Babiš’s 46.5%; rather too close for comfort. Politico’s polling aggregate says 58-42, which seems more plausible, but an upset can’t be ruled out.

The New York Times report points out that either Pavel or Babiš would represent a clear break with the era of incumbent Miloš Zeman, whose views can fairly be described as anti-western and who until a year ago was counted as a firm friend of Vladimir Putin. But although Babiš is not quite the Trumpist that some accounts suggest, he has played fast and loose with Zeman and with both far left and far right over the last decade or so. There are good reasons for the supporters of democracy to prefer Pavel.

On to neighboring Slovakia, where (as we noted earlier) the coalition government of prime minister Eduard Heger was defeated on a vote of no confidence before Christmas. There’s general agreement that an early election will have to be held, but there was a confused period of manoeuvring about just how that was to be achieved – including a referendum last weekend, initiated by the opposition, which fell well short of the threshold for validity.

This week, however, the government, which is still in office in a caretaker capacity, secured passage of a constitutional amendment that will allow for an early election if three-fifths of parliamentarians vote in favor (the same majority required to pass the amendment). That still leaves the actual date open; the government parties are aiming for 30 September, but the opposition would like it held before the summer break, in May or June.

Either way, Heger at least has a bit of time to try to put together a united front in the attempt to win a fresh mandate.


3 thoughts on “Czech & Slovak news

  1. So this is interesting, do I understand correctly that Slovakia has a motion of no confidence that can degrade the government to caretaker status, but no mechanism for an early election? Did they deliberately try to avoid an ordinary parliamentary system, or was it some oversight in the constitution?

    I had thought that Norway (and, briefly, the UK) was the only country that had a parliamentary system that doesn’t permit early elections in the case of government collapse. If Slovakia was another exception, it seems the parliamentary milieu they now find themselves in is pushing them towards ordinary parliamentarism (much as the UK couldn’t tolerate it, and reverted to its traditional system that gives the executive clearly too much power to call an early election).


    1. Thanks Felix – yes, that appears to be the case. A number of countries (and states, like Victoria) have rules that prevent parliament being dissolved except when a government loses a vote of confidence (and sometimes other exceptional cases as well); they can create problems, but it’s a trade-off between that and giving the executive too much power over election timing. But Norway is the only other one I know of where it’s just not an option at all. I don’t know if the Slovaks deliberately copied that. (There are some places, altho I can’t call an example to mind, where there’s an option for an early election but it doesn’t reset the clock – the new parliament just serves out the rest of the old one’s term, so there’s no incentive to engineer an election for political reasons.)


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