Austerity-weary Czech voters handed a resurgent Communist Party a striking victory in local elections over the weekend that now threatens the incumbent center-right government.
“The largely unreformed communists, heirs of the totalitarian party that ruled Czechoslovakia for more than 40 years, won more than 20-percent of the vote,” reports the Financial Times.
The Civic Democrats (ODS), led by Prime Minister Petr Necas, came in with 12.3-percent, which is roughly half of what the party got in local elections four years ago.
The leading opposition Social Democrats, who are in a coalition government with the ODS, won 24-percent, a massive drop from the 36-percent they won in 2008.
This weekend’s vote is the best showing the Communist Party has had since being thrown out during the Velvet Revolution 20 years ago.
Austerity measures set in place after the economic downturn in 2008 have reduced the deficit from 4.8-percent in 2010 to 3.1-percent last year. But a new initiative set by the European Union to get it under 3-percent has caused a political civil war within the ODS. Six members of the party joined the opposition to veto the bill, which calls for a VAT increase of 1-percent, tax hikes on high earners, and sharp reductions of public benefits.
Czech President and ODS founder Vaclav Klaus has also emerged as a foe of the prime minister, who has called any attempts to raise taxes during a recession “economic suicide.” Klaus recently vetoed a pension reform plan favored by Necas.
Opposition leaders called on Necas to step down after the vote, but the prime minister has already agreed to early elections on his coalition government slated for later this month.
Necas has also insisted his new austerity package must pass. Without further fiscal tightening, he warns, the Czech deficit could balloon to 6-percent of GDP this year.
Both the ODS and Social Democrats were struck by corruption scandals leading up to the election, which also contributed to their poor showing in this weekend’s vote.