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EU Election, Day 2: In Czechia New Parties Surge at the Expense of the Old

On the second and third days of the European election, Czechs will go to the polls to choose their new representatives in the European Parliament. Generally, low turnout makes it difficult to predict the exact number of seats for each party, but it will almost certainly see the ruling ANO – part of the liberal ALDE group – and the Pirate Party (Greens/EFL) coming out on top. Behind them, new parties on the right are expected to make gains while the old establishment parties continue their decline.

Just two elections ago, in 2009, the Czech political landscape was nowhere near as fragmented, with the conservative ODS (ECR) and centre-left ČSSD (S&D) winning the bulk of Czechia’s 21 seats in the European Parliament. The left-wing KSČM (LEFT) and Christian democrat KDU-ČSL (EPP) each picked up a few as well. By 2014 new parties had risen to prominence and this election looks like it will continue that trend as new parties continue to sweep away the old. Whereas in 2009 only 4 parties from Czechia won an MEP, this time around the number will be double that.

In most polls the ruling ANO (ALDE) party is ahead, but this may be deceiving. In the 2014 European election ANO was also expected to come out ahead, but due to the low actual turnout of their voters the projections were overestimated by close to 10 percentage points in many polls. Considering ANO’s voting base tends to be older and less likely to vote, new parties with younger voting bases could take advantage of the low overall turnout. For this reason we are projecting ANO to win just 5 seats, up from 4 the last time around.

ANO was founded by billionare Andrej Babiš in 2012, since then it has risen in popularity with a syncretic mix of liberal, Eurosceptic, and conservative policies which have helped the party rise in prominence at the expense of older establishment parties. While ANO is part of the liberal ALDE group in the EU Parliament, it has come under criticism for perceived political opportunism, particularly from younger voters who are turning to the Czech Pirate Party, which is among the most outspoken critics of Andrej Babiš.

The Czech Pirate Party (Greens/EFA) just missed out on an MEP in the last elections but will likely come second this time around. We are projecting this will give them 5 MEPs as well, tying them with Babiš’s ANO. Whether or not they do manage 5 seats, it will certainly be the best result for a pirate party anywhere in Europe in this EU election. Their voters tend to be more educated and live in urban areas, making them more likely to vote independent of overall turnout, so the same force that could cost ANO seats will work in the Pirates’ favour.

Of those parties which used to dominate Czech elections, the centre-left ČSSD and left-wing KSČM look set to continue their decline, losing three more seats a piece with little chance of getting more than two MEPs each. We project they will get one a piece, having lost much of their voting base to ANO. The KDU-ČSL will also likely win just one seat, losing two from the last election. The conservative ODS may regain some ground though getting 3 seats, one more than in the previous election.

In 2014, an alliance of the centre-right parties TOP 09/STAN (EPP) capitalized on the ODS’s decline, picking up four seats. However, TOP 09/STAN are projected to get only three seats in this election, with the reverse trends working in ODS’s favour. The surge of the Pirates also hurts Top 09, who have lost many of their young, more educated voters to them.

Another party that could capitalize on low turnout is the right-wing SPD (EAPN), which may enter the EU parliament for the first time. In our model we expect them to get 2 seats, which takes into account the expectation of low overall turnout and higher relative turnout for SPD voters. Almost certain to get at least one seat, the SPD have grown in recent years in the wake of the migrant crisis, drawing support from all over the political spectrum.

One of the more intruiging elements of the EU election in Czechia is the prominence of the Pirate Party. Even though ANO will probably win the plurality of the votes, the rise of the Pirate Party is by far the most dramatic in this election. For many the notion of a pirate party may be a bit odd, as pirates have scored few major electoral successes in Europe thus far. This election will be a landmark for pirate politics then, because the Czech Pirate Party is certain to score the biggest win for a pirate party in any election in European history thus far.

Representing a youth-oriented politics focused on political transparency and direct democracy often defined as a sort of left-libertarianism, pirates will be just one of the many new faces in the European Parliament. As far as their EU parliament grouping is concerned, they have refused to join ALDE as long as ANO is in it, so will most likely end up in the Greens/EFA grouping. This strong stance towards Babiš and ANO is part of an electoral strategy that seems to be paying off, capitalizing on discontent with Babiš.

Overall this election will see a major shift in Czech politics, as the mantle of opposition moves from parties which used to rule, like the ČSSD and ODS, to parties even newer and with even less experience than Andrej Babiš’s ANO. The Pirate Party and SPD together will have more seats than the four Czech parties which won all 21 Czech EU Parliament seats in 2009 based on our model, representing not just the prominence of new political forces, but also the general fragmentation of the Czech political landscape.

(Edited by Euan Healey)