Prague - Last weekend, Czech voters used the municipal elections to punish the center-right government for the unpopular economic reforms. One week later, the second round of the Senate elections produced even more serious trouble for the government.
The Senate elections, in which Czechs decided who would occupy one-third (27) of the Senate's 81 seats, resulted in the Czech Social Democracy (CSSD) winning 12 new seats, which puts the total number of its Senators to 41 - the smallest possible majority.
This means the party would be able to significantly hamper the government's fiscal austerity measures. The Senate can veto laws approved by the Lower Chamber, where the coalition has the comfortable majority of 118 out of 200 MPs. Bills vetoed by the Senate have to be approved by the absolute majority of at least 101 MPs. This means that if the coalition remains united, it will outvote even the hostile Senate.
"Czechs troubled by reforms"
"We will correct the government's reforms. If the government will shift the burden (of reforms) to the weakest, we will oppose. People have expressed they are troubeled by the government policy. I urge the Prime Minister to reassess the reforms. They should be based on a broader social consensus," said the Social Democrat acting chairman Bohuslav Sobotka.
Amid joy at the Social Democratic headquarters, sources already say that the party may want the Senate to be presided by a Social Democrat. One of the candidates mentioned is Milan Štěch, a former leader of the Czech Republic's largest trade union. His appointment would certainly be humiliating for the government coalition which shares a rather Thatcherite attitude towards trade unions.
"We already said it before the elections, and we say it again now. We will discuss all important reforms with the largest opposition party," said PM Petr Nečas when asked about the election result. His right-wing Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the largest government party, won only eight out of the 18 seats it was defending in the Senate race.
In addition, Nečas has already admitted that the Senate will be most likely presided by a member of the strongest club of the chamber, which is now the Social Democracy. "It is a custom," he said.
The Social Democracy did well in the Senate elections in spite of the lower electoral turnout of less than 25 percent. The Social Democracy's voters tend to be less-disciplined than the voters of other parties, at least in terms of voter turnout.
Up and down
The super-election year in the Czech Republic was thus characterized by a severe change in Czech public opinion. In the late-May 2010 legislative election, amid the pan-European "Greek scare", Czechs voted for center-right parties whose electoral campaign was based predominantly on the necessity of austerity measures in order to avoid falling into a debt trap.
However, in less then five months, the original support waned away as Czechs learned about the details and scope of the planned reforms. This culminated in the municipal and Senate elections held in October 2010, which resulted into a severe disappointment for the government and regained confidence and political influence of the Social Democrats.
And, yet again, the situation is inseparable from the broader European context. The blow to the Czech pro-reform government came as France's Nicolas Sarkozy was struggling to pass his austerity pension bill through the French Senate amid massive protests.