The Czech Republic is
geographically the most western of the eight former communist nations
that joined the EU in 2004, and is usually regarded as the most
westernised – certainly Prague is the most heavily touristed city in
the eight. The Czechs also appeared to be building a stable,
western-looking two-party system, but elections there last week have thrown a spanner in the works.

What
made Czech politics look more western was that its main left-wing
party, the Social Democrats (in government for the last eight years),
were real social democrats, not ex-communists; the communists remained
in the field as a much smaller separate party. Their opponents on the
centre-right, the Civic Democratic Party, are a mainstream mix of
conservatives and free-marketeers, not unlike Australia’s Liberal
Party. None of the smaller parties disturbed the basic pattern, and a
5% threshold for representation kept most of them out of parliament.

But
the elections, held Friday and Saturday, have produced a deadlock. The
Social Democrats were reduced to 74 seats in a Chamber of Deputies of
200. Even with two small parties, the Christian Democrats and Greens
(entering parliament for the first time), they would be well short of a
majority. The Communists, however, won 26 seats, so with their support
the Social Democrats have exactly half.

The opposition Civic
Democrats emerged as the largest party with 81 seats; support from the
Christian Democrats and Greens, who have said they will not participate
in any government that includes the Communists, would bring them also
up to exactly 100 seats. (Adam Carr’s Psephos has figures.

So
the Czechs can add themselves to another “western” list, of
phenomenally close elections held in recent months – together with
Germany, New Zealand, Canada and Italy. And while two parties continue
to dominate the landscape, the fact that they are so evenly balanced
gives the minors an unusual degree of power.

The Civic Democrats
will get the first opportunity to form a government, but if the 100-all
deadlock holds up then there could be fresh elections, or even a
German-style grand coalition between the major parties (which they have
both ruled out
– but they always do). Which leaves another unanswered question: why do
so many countries disregard the obvious rule that legislative bodies
should have an odd number of seats?

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.