PM Mirek Topolánek's Civic Democrats (ODS), the leading party of the Czech Republic's fragile centre-right governing coalition, suffered a major blow on Saturday when opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD) took a landslide victory in the regional elections.
The ČSSD, led by former PM Jiří Paroubek, reaped 35.86 percent of the vote, while the ODS received a meagre 23.58 percent.
What is worse for the ODS, their rivals came first in all 13 regions. This means the ČSSD will be able to appoint all regional governors and choose coalition partners.
"If we don't learn from this, we may see a similar outcome in the general elections in 2010," Topolánek told Aktuálně.cz.
He added the main reason behind the defeat was that the party had given too much independence to its regional branches instead of running a more centralized campaign. When asked if he can see any mistakes on his part, the ODS leader replied: "My mistakes? I should've fired more people."
Potential partners: KDU-ČSL or Communists
The Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), one of ODS's two coalition partners, received 6.66 percent of the vote. The party will be represented in seven regional assemblies instead of today's 10. It may become a coalition partner for the ČSSD in some regional governments.
The regional polls were most shattering for the smallest member of the ODS-led coalition, the Green Party, which failed to pass the 5 percent threshold needed for representation.
"We have largely lost the opportunity to directly influence regional development and to push environment protection in regional politics in the next four years," said Greens leader and Environment Minister Martin Bursík in an interview for Aktuálně.cz. He said a low turnout among Greens voters was behind the debacle.
The swing of voter support to the left may benefit the Communists (KSČM). They received 15 percent of the vote and may potentially become ČSSD's coalition partners in many regional governments.
ČSSD looking to boost Senate presence
In the first round of Senate by-elections, ČSSD candidates were successful in 25 of 26 constituencies that were choosing their senator for the next six years. In 24 constituencies, the ČSSD nominee qualified for next weekend's one-on-one runoff. In Karviná, northeastern Moravia, ČSSD's Radek Sušil became Senator in the first round with 53.34 percent of the vote.
Znojmo, south Moravia, was the only constituency where the ČSSD was left out of the runoff after coming third, short of a Communist candidate (41.39 percent) and an ODS nominee (17.27 percent).