Election Resources on the Internet:
Parliamentary Elections in the Czech Republic - Elections to the Chamber of Deputies
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera
 

The Czech Republic, which held its first-ever direct presidential election on January 11-12, 2013, and a presidential runoff vote on January 25-26, 2013, returned to the polls for an early parliamentary election on October 25-26, 2013. A description of the system used to elect members of the Czech legislature - specifically those of the lower house of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies - is presented here.

May 22-25, 2014 European election results will be available here. In addition, the Czech Statistical Office's Election Server will have detailed results in Czech and English of the 2014 European election in the Czech Republic.

Nationwide and regional-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Chamber of Deputies elections:

      October 25-26, 2013             Chamber of Deputies      
      May 28-29, 2010             Chamber of Deputies      
      June 2-3, 2006             Chamber of Deputies      
      June 14-15, 2002             Chamber of Deputies      
      June 19-20, 1998             Chamber of Deputies      
      May 31-June 1st, 1996             Chamber of Deputies      

In addition, nationwide and regional-level results of the January 11-12 and 25-26, 2013 presidential election are available here.

The election statistics presented in this space come from results published by the Czech Statistical Office's Election Server.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Parliament of the Czech Republic consists of a lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and an upper house, the Senate. The Chamber of Deputies has greater legislative power than the Senate: bills passed by the Chamber of Deputies but rejected by the Senate become law if they are approved on a subsequent Chamber of Deputies vote by absolute majority.

The Chamber of Deputies is composed of 200 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage every four years. Originally, each one of the Czech Republic's seven geographic regions plus the capital city of Prague was an electoral region where political parties and coalitions of parties presented lists of candidates. This arrangement lasted until 2002, when an amendment to the electoral law increased the number of electoral regions to fourteen: the country's new thirteen self-governing regions along with Prague. Voters may indicate a preference for up to four (previously two) candidates in one list.

Chamber seats are allocated among the electoral regions in proportion to the number of valid votes cast in a general election. Before 2002, seats were initially distributed in each electoral region among qualifying lists by the Hagenbach-Bischoff method of proportional representation (PR); if there remained unfilled mandates, these were allocated at the national level according to the lists' unused vote totals, first by the Hagenbach-Bischoff method and then by the largest remainder method. However, the 2002 electoral law amendment introduced the largest average method - the D'Hondt rule - for the apportionment of Chamber seats in each region among competing lists; all Chamber mandates are now allocated in the electoral regions, so there is no longer a nationwide distribution of unfilled seats.

In order to participate in the distribution of constituency seats, a party must obtain at least five percent of all valid votes cast at the national level, while coalitions of two, three and four or more parties are required to obtain at least ten, fifteen and twenty percent of the vote (previously seven, nine and eleven percent), respectively. List seats are allocated to candidates in the order in which they appear on the list, but candidates receiving at least five (previously seven and originally ten) percent of the total number of votes cast for their party have priority in the allocation of seats, regardless of their position on the list.

The Senate is composed of 81 members elected for a six-year term of office in single-member constituencies by the runoff voting system. Candidates who obtain an absolute majority of valid votes cast are elected in the first round. Otherwise, a runoff election is held between the top two candidates. In the second round, the candidate that obtains the largest number of votes is elected to office. One-third of the members of the Senate are elected every two years.

The Political Parties

The Velvet Revolution of November 1989, which peacefully ended more than four decades of Communist dictatorship in Czechoslovakia - the federation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia - paved the way for the re-emergence of genuine multi-party systems in both countries. In the June 1990 parliamentary elections - Czechoslovakia's first free elections in forty-four years - the Civic Forum and its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence, won an absolute majority of seats in the Federal Assembly, well ahead of the Communist Party, which nonetheless retained significant support and arrived in second place, ahead of the Christian and Democratic Union (KDU).

However, Civic Forum - an umbrella movement that brought together opponents of Communist rule who held diverse political views - disintegrated after the re-establishment of parliamentary democracy. In the 1992 general elections, its main offshoot, the right-of-center Civic Democratic Party (ODS) of then-finance minister Václav Klaus emerged as the largest single party in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Slovakia - which swung in the opposite direction and voted for Vladimir Meciar's left-wing, populist Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) - pressed for further devolution of powers, which would have transformed Czechoslovakia into a loose federation. This was not acceptable to the Czechs, and the two countries subsequently agreed to part ways peacefully - the so-called "Velvet Divorce." Thus, on December 31, 1992 Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, and the following day its two constituent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia became sovereign nations.

Having previously served as President of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, the well-known playwright and former political dissident Václav Havel became the Czech Republic's head of state in February 1993. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Václav Klaus emerged as the country's dominant political figure. Klaus, who pursued a large-scale economic privatization program, headed a four-party coalition government of ODS, the Christian Democratic Party (KDS), the Christian and Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's Party (KDU-CSL) and the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) until 1996, when the center-left Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) emerged as a major challenger to ODS in a general election held in May and June of that year. Although the ruling coalition fell one seat short of an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies, Klaus remained in office as head of a minority government, and subsequently gained the support of two deputies who had been expelled from CSSD.

Nonetheless, in November 1997 Klaus' government collapsed in the wake of a party financing scandal. Neither ODS nor CSSD wished to form a government following Klaus' resignation, and President Havel subsequently appointed a non-party figure, Josef Tosovsky, the chairman of the Czech National Bank, as head of a caretaker government. In an early general election held in June 1998, CSSD emerged as the largest party, ahead of ODS but well short of an absolute majority. CSSD would not form a coalition government with the unreformed Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) - in no small measure because the Social Democrats had been forcibly absorbed by the Communists in 1948 - but failed to reach an agreement with KDU-CSL or the Freedom Union (US); meanwhile, ODS, KDU-CSL and US commanded a narrow overall majority in the Chamber of Deputies, but Klaus refused to form a center-right coalition government with the Freedom Union, which had been formed by anti-Klaus ODS dissidents. In due course, CSSD and ODS reached an unprecedented "opposition agreement," under which ODS tolerated a Social Democratic minority government formed by CSSD leader Milos Zeman.

The CSSD-ODS "opposition agreement" continued until the 2002 general election, in which the Social Democrats came out well ahead of the Civic Democratic Party, and subsequently formed a coalition government with KDU-CSL and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) under the leadership of CSSD chairman Vladimir Spidla. Nevertheless, the following year Parliament elected Václav Klaus - the former ODS leader and former prime minister - to replace Václav Havel as head of state (Havel was ineligible for another term in office).

In May 2004 the Czech Republic joined the European Union - Czech voters had approved EU membership by an overwhelming majority in a June 2003 referendum - but both CSSD and US-DEU fared badly in elections to the European Parliament the following June, and the government's poor election showing triggered the collapse of Vladimir Spidla's cabinet. Stanislav Gross succeeded Spidla's as head of a coalition government of CSSD, KDU-CSL and US-DEU, but he was forced to resign in April 2005, following allegations of corruption; Jiri Paroubek replaced Gross as both CSSD chairman and prime minister.

Jiri Paroubek's coalition cabinet remained in office until the parliamentary election of June 2006, in which ODS won the largest number of seats, with the Social Democrats in a strong second place. ODS leader Mirek Topolánek attempted to form a coalition government with KDU-CSL and the Green Party (SZ), but the three parties held just half the seats in the Chamber of Deputies - exactly the same number as CSSD and KSCM together. The impasse was finally broken in January 2007, when Topolánek secured a parliamentary majority with the support of two rebel CSSD deputies. Although Topolánek managed to survive four no-confidence motions during the course of the following two years (while securing the re-election of President Klaus in 2008 by a narrow margin), his government's precarious parliamentary majority finally came apart in March 2009, when four dissident deputies from ODS and the Green Party joined forces with CSSD and KSCM to bring down Topolánek's cabinet in a no-confidence vote. Following an agreement between the parties in the outgoing coalition government and the opposition Social Democrats, President Klaus appointed Jan Fischer, the non-partisan head of the Czech Statistical Office, to form a caretaker government that would run the country until the next general election, originally scheduled to be held on October 9-10, 2009.

However, in September 2009 the Constitutional Court struck down the law which reduced the length of the lower house term. The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate immediately passed an amendment to the constitution to allow an early election to be held on November 6-7, but when the actual dissolution vote came up, the Social Democrats did an about-face and blocked the measure, along with the Communists and the Greens. As a result, the parliamentary election was postponed until May 28-29, 2010, when the Chamber's four-year term came to an end.

Both CSSD and ODS lost considerable support in the May 2010 parliamentary election, although the Social Democrats topped the poll, narrowly ahead of the Civic Democrats. Nonetheless, ODS and two new right-of-center parties - Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09 (TOP 09) and Public Affairs (VV) - secured a sizable overall majority of 118 seats, and the three parties subsequently reached an agreement to form a coalition government headed by ODS leader Petr Necas.

Prime Minister Necas remained in office until June 2013, when he resigned after his chief of staff was arrested on charges of corruption and abuse of power. ODS then nominated Chamber of Deputies Speaker Miroslava Nemcová to succeed Necas as head of government, but in a controversial move President Milos Zeman appointed instead his economic advisor and former finance minister, Jiri Rusnok to form a technocratic cabinet of non-party experts. However, the following August Prime Minister Rusnok resigned after his government lost a confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies; the Chamber subsequently voted to dissolve itself and hold an early election the following October 25-26.

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Last update: May 25, 2014.