Friday, 23 May 2014

European elections 2014: Ireland and the Czech Republic

Day two of the polls now, and Ireland and the Czech Republic are voting. The Czech Republic will have its polls open for two days, Friday and Saturday, to give people more opportunity to vote.


The crisis-hit country recently came out of the bail-out programme as the poster-boy for austerity, but despite the resignation to budget cuts the policy hasn't been popular. When the last government fell due to the bail out in 2011, the governing Fianna Fáil party (ALDE) was trashed at the polls. FF is still blamed for the crisis (it was the senior party in government from 1998-2011), but has made a slight recovery in the polls as the Fine Gael-Labour (EPP-PES) government continued the bail-out programme left by FF.

Sinn Féin (UEL) seems to be the biggest beneficiary of the government's unpopularity. Though its leader Gerry Adams was arrested and questioned a few weeks ago in connection with an IRA killing (he was released without charge) and Sinn Féin's connection with the Provisional IRA during the Troubles is still a problem for its image in the Republic of Ireland, the party has a strong front bench that helps promote the party. It is likely to make gains at the expense of the Socialist Party's single MEP, Paul Murphy, in Dublin and at the expense of Labour generally. As the junior, centre-left, party in government, Labour is bearing the brunt of popular discontent with the government and may be lucky to retain 1 out of its 3 current MEPs.

Ireland is one of the few Member States to be divided into constituencies (Dublin, Midlands-North-West, and South) and are run on a Single Transferable Vote system (Northern Ireland also has this system while the rest of the UK has a closed list system). This means that voters can list the candidates in order of preference, so party loyalty or preference can be trumped by a strong personal vote. One candidate, Ming Flanagan, is an independent who has campaigned against the impact of EU rules on turf-cutting, which has been an emotive issue for the countryside. Flanagan is already a sitting TD (MP), and if he's elected his nominated replacement might be the one to actually take the seat.

The Irish political party system is still in flux with FF still far from its once dominant position. Throw in personal votes, the possibility for competition between candidates of the same party, and the redrawing of constituency boundaries (bringing 4 constituencies down to 3), and there'll be an interesting battle or two in each part of the country.

The Irish Times gives a good run-down of the three constituencies and the issues in each one if you want to dig deeper:


Czech Republic:

The Czech Republic had a general election last year, resulting in a coalition government between the Social Democratic CSSD (PES), the break-out new party of the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens ANO and the Christian and Democratic Union (EPP). ANO's rise was the biggest shock to the system - founded and led by millionaire Andrej Babis, the centre-right party won 47 seats and became the second-biggest party in the parliament and in government. ANO has the strange position of opposing Euro membership for the Czech Republic and greater integration generally, but they are supporting the Liberal candidate and outspoken federalist, Guy Verhofstadt, for the Commission Presidency (Babis has since said that he's open on the question of Euro membership).

The Civic Democrats are running a petition against Euro membership, though ironically it appears that their membership is one of the most supportive of the Czech parties of joining the Euro.

CSSD and ANO don't appear to have been in government long enough for the anti-incumbent effect to take over - both parties are leading the others in the polls. There is a 5% threshold that parties have to pass in order to win seats in the elections.

Current polls:

CSSD (PES): 23%
ANO (ALDE): 25%
Communist Party (Party of the European Left [observer]): 11%
TOP09 (EPP): 8%
Civic Democrats (AECR): 6%
Christian and Democratic Party (EPP): 6%

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