The Czech Greens after the Senate and Regional Elections

Ondřej Liška ist Parteivorsitzender der tschechischen Grünen. Foto: 


November 9, 2012
The Czech Greens (Strana zelených, SZ) were successful in the October 2012 Senate elections, and are now once again represented in the Czech parliament following their electoral defeat in 2010. Two out of a total of six candidates won seats. In the second round, Eliška Wagnerová (an independent candidate for the Greens) and Libor Michálek (an independent candidate for a coalition of Greens, Christian Democrats and Pirates) each received 74 per cent of votes cast. In two rounds, 27 senators were elected, representing one-third of the Senate.

The Greens also achieved successes in the regional elections held at the same time as the first round of Senate elections. Hitherto, they were not represented in any region; after these elections, they now hold a total on nine seats in two regions of northern Bohemia (Liberec 17%, Ústí 8%). Moreover, the Greens also participated in another successful (11%) coalition in the Olomouc Region, although due to a peculiarity in the election law (preferential votes) they did not win a seat here.

On 6 November 2012, Eva van de Rakt, Office Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Prague, spoke with Czech Green Party Chairman Ondřej Liška.

Ondřej, what is behind the markedly strong performances by Eliška Wagnerová and Libor Michálek?

Ondřej Liška: The most important reason for their success is that an alliance emerged between strong non-partisan personalities and the Green Party. The population is quite mistrustful of politics in general, and continues to be disappointed with the Czech Greens’ participation in government between 2007 and 2009. I’m convinced that trust can only be restored through personalities with credible positions who come out as Greens and represent them – and this is the case of Eliška Wagnerová and Libor Michálek. Both might have been elected even without support from the SZ, but the affinity with the Greens was manifest. The Greens contributed to well-organised campaigns and to the programmatic profiling of the two candidates, and In addition – unlike other parties – have not been associated with any corruption scandals. In turn, the Greens made a strong showing through this success and have won the opportunity to participate in the legislative process and to reach a wider spectrum of voters. Moreover, thanks to this election success, we’ll receive state financial support for our political activity.
Libor Michálek was a joint candidate of the Greens, the Christian Democrats and the Pirates. How did this coalition arise? What was the starting point for cooperation among these parties?

Yes, unlike Eliška Wagnerová, a candidate of the Greens, Libor Michálek was a joint candidate of the Greens, the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL, editor’s note) and the Pirates. This coalition may seem rather disparate to many observers, especially foreign observers, but upon closer examination this is not the case. The first reason for the coalition is the fact that the electoral constituencies of the Senate elections in Prague are a bastion of the established, mainly right-wing conservative parties. The chances of success in the first-past-the-post election system to the Senate are greater if smaller parties agree on a common approach. Second, in all three cases these are opposition parties. In the Czech context, the Christian Democrats represent mainly the political centre, and they met the same fate as the Greens when they were eliminated from parliament in the last elections to the Chamber of Deputies. The Christian Democrats enjoy very marginal support in Prague, whereas the Greens can count on a stable voter constituency there. The association with the KDU-ČSL as a party of the centre was thus not alien to Green voters in generally conservative-oriented Prague; to the contrary, it symbolised the fact that we are capable of uniting our forces in order to defeat the large established parties of the left and right.

The cooperation with the Pirates has a somewhat different character. This party does not have a particularly developed programme – only on a few issues regarding copyright, the internet and transparency. Similarly to the SZ and the KDU-ČSL, it understands itself as an opposition party, even an anti-system party. The Pirate Party has approximately 180 members in the entire Czech Republic, and its support thus takes on the image of an anti-establishment movement. In view of the fact that the Pirates’ programme does not differ markedly from ours on issues of e.g. energy and social policy, there are no obstacles to a one-off cooperative effort. I should mention, however, that at present neither the Czech Greens nor the Pirates can imagine any other form of cooperation than this one-off occasion in the Senate elections and specifically in this Prague electoral constituency.

At least five senators are needed to establish a new political group in the Senate. Which group will Eliška Wagnerová and Libor Michálek join?

From the beginning, both have endeavoured to form a new political group in which they can operate as independents and apply their expertise – Eliška Wagnerová as a former constitutional court judge and Libor Michálek in the areas of public administration and combating corruption. At the moment, two groups are forming in which non-partisan senators are well-represented, although there are also problems with these groups with respect to their composition. Eliška Wagnerová and Libor Michálek were both involved in establishing the “Group for the Renewal of Democracy”, whose members consist of three Christian Democratic and five independent senators. A major complication for us is the fact that in the meantime two senators have joined this group who are known for their xenophobic positions. One of them was even nominated – against the will of our two senators – to the Senate leadership. This is unacceptable, and makes it untenable for Eliška Wagnerová and Libor Michálek to remain in the group. There is also the possibility of them entering the other group of independent senators, which has five members but is rather conservatively oriented and basically supports the present government, to which we are fundamentally opposed. Discussions are currently underway on how to proceed, including the possibility of not belonging to any group, which is the most likely outcome at present. We are pursuing the goal of assuring optimal conditions for both of our senators while at the same time avoiding an association with those who would implement policies at odds with the Greens’ programme. (Shortly after this interview, Eliška Wagnerová left the “Group for the Renewal of Democracy”, editor’s note.)

Eliška Wagnerová will very likely chair the Constitutional Commission. What goals will she pursue for the Greens in the Senate?

As a prominent jurist and former constitutional court judge, Eliška Wagnerová has great potential to bring her abilities to bear in the Senate – as well as her conviction that values such as respect and defence of human dignity must return to the actions of the state, and that the collapse of the rule of law must be avoided. The Greens are convinced, as is Eliška Wagnerová, that it is insufficient merely to replace politicians; rather, the entire political system in the Czech Republic must be changed. As chairperson of the Senate’s Constitutional Commission, Eliška Wagnerová would have the unique opportunity to bring issues to the agenda which pose an obstacle to citizens playing a greater and more just role in decision-making processes affecting their future, and to fairer rules for the state, society and politics in the Czech Republic.

The Greens were able to achieve successes in regional elections as well. For the first time, you have won seats – in coalitions – in regional parliaments. What do these coalitions stand for? Do they have a strong Green profile?

In both regions where we were successful, the coalitions have a strong Green profile. This is due to the fact that their top candidates are prominent personalities who are associated with the Greens – Přemysl Rabas and Jan Korytář. Members of the Czech Greens were well-represented on both candidate lists, and we won more seats that we had originally assumed because our candidates received a large share of the preferential votes. This was the case for Jaromír Bax in the Liberec Region and Vladimír Buřt in the Ústí Region. It is particularly pleasing in the case of Vladimír Buřt, because he has long resisted lifting restrictions on surface coal mining, which destroys the landscape and is harmful to the health of the population. This electoral success is very gratifying for the Green movement.

Both coalitions emerged from Greens and local initiatives. Their main goal was to create an alternative to the corrupt parties of the left and right. They can be characterised as civic anti-corruption coalitions with strong Green accents. The task of the elected Green representatives is now to make good on the trust they have won, and to create the conditions for a strengthening of the Greens not only at the regional level, but also in the context of the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2014.

In the regions where the SZ ran alone, they fell short of the five-per-cent threshold. Why? How do the Czech Greens interpret these results?

A more detailed analysis of the results reveals an unambiguous message: Everywhere where we are active communally – e.g. through our mayors, but also thanks to active partisans – we have come out above average. In the communities where we have strong personalities, we received as much as 24 per cent. In Brno, we received around 18 per cent in a few municipal districts and 7 per cent citywide. In the remaining communities of the region, however, the results were unfortunately very poor. This means that the “Green label” alone does not lead to success. Where credible Green representatives are active, however, a victory with 20 per cent is no exception. The lesson we should take away from this is quite clear: The work of Greens at the communal level needs to become more concerted, and should not be restricted to larger cities and communities. Where Greens have been present in the long term thanks to credible faces, they are elected. If we strengthen our profile nationwide, I have no doubt that the Greens will also be successful in the elections to the Chamber of Deputies.

For months now, the governing coalition has been trudging from one crisis to the next. The country seems to be politically paralysed. Since the Senate and regional elections turned out catastrophically for the ODS, there is speculation about early new elections. Do you think there will be early elections?

Despite this government’s destructive policies and despite the severe crisis in which the governing coalition finds itself with respect to its personnel and programme, it looks as though there will not be early elections. Regular elections are due in a year and a half. The interests behind the scenes which hold the governing coalition together are so strong that a collapse of the government is unlikely. The coalition will continue to vegetate even though it has lost the majority, which will doubtless lead to a further exacerbation of the political melancholy among the population.

The SZ party conference will take place at the end of November. What’s on the agenda?

The SZ will elect a new party executive. This executive will lead the party to four elections in 2014 – the elections to the Chamber of Deputies, the EP elections, as well as the Senate and communal elections. For the Greens, this is an extraordinary opportunity as well as a challenge. I’ve decided to run again for the party chairmanship, and I’m pleased that I’ll have opponents. New people with new ideas and energy, as well as very experienced members are running for the party executive. This is more than a good sign for the current shape of the Czech Greens.

Ondřej, thank you very much for the interview.
The interview was conducted by Eva van de Rakt, Office Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Prague.
English translation: Evan Mellander