Searching for reasons for the fall of the Republicans
There was justified feeling of euphoria throughout the sane world when it became clear that the Republicans would not make it into the Parliament. Now that this initial reaction has worn off somewhat, it is time to start examining the reasons behind this welcome result.
For the moment, I will leave behind the curious coincidence of election figures of the Republicans and DZJ. This statistical anomaly needs to be explained, of course, but I will leave that to the official investigators for now. Let's hope there is a good explanation for it.
Taking the election results at face value, the sudden drop in support for the Republican Party deserves explanation. I personally think that it has to do with several factors; no one reason is enough to explain such a dramatic shift in the Czech political landscape.
Voters Leave in Droves
To begin to explain this enigma, we first need to find out what happened to Republican voters from earlier years. According to pruzkum they went in various directions. A few thousand went to ODS and over 100,000 went to CSSD. Why? It is true that ODS and CSSD adopted some of the rhetoric of the Republicans on several issues (see my MPhil thesis) to be sure, but that is only part of the reason.
Discontent in Czech society, as many including myself have argued elsewhere in the past week, has not disappeared, but it has become somewhat deradicalised in recent months. Votes for both the Republicans and for CSSD show dissatisfaction in society, but the latter shows a much more reasoned approach. Those 100,000 swing voters wanted change, but they want it in a form of practical deeds not immature rantings.
Those immature rantings were also an important reason Sladek did not get into Parliament. Many people simply think he is goofy. Even within the Republican Party itself, according to various sources, there is quite a split between Sladek supporters and those who are sick of the vudce's nepotism, corruption, paranoia and poor leadership. Now that he will be seen as a loser as well, I would not be surprised to see the party split openly.
The Republicans' media strategy during the election campaign is certainly worth mentioning here. The Republicans did their very best to put on a friendly face during the official campaign. Vik, sharply dressed and mild-mannered, was pushed to the fore to clean up the immature and incompetent image that Sladek gives. Most notably on the TV screen, the Republicans opted for normal debate over silly tricks, but it did not help them at the polls.
It is interesting that just as they toned down their rhetoric, they lost votes. Would the old Republican Party of media stunts have had better success?
Returning to the question of where former Republican voters went, we have to recall that huge numbers of Republican voters of 1996 simply chose not to vote this time around. It is possible that the calmer media strategy had something to do with it. Some people probably did prefer cheap political entertainment to the new "fascism with a human face".
Germans and Roma
A friend tells me that the Czech-German Declaration was critical in taking the wind out of Sladek's sails. I suppose that this is somewhat true in that because the Declaration actually did little, people became less scared of it and the Sudeten issue in general. Sladek lost a good card in this way, and the reduction of the German fear may have reduced Republican support. This is possible, but I would like to see some recent public opinion data on the question of Czech views of Germans and Germany to lend weight to this argument.
Sladek's other major card - the Roma - also seemed to be of little use to him this time around. I do not think this has to do with an increase in sensitivity to the plight of Roma or to a general reduction in latent racism in Czech society. Rather, I feel it has to do with the white population's lack of interest in the issue.
Many Czechs are simply tired of hearing about Roma and their problems. They are tired of listening to Mlynar and Horakova talk about it on TV, and they are equally tired of hearing Vik and Sladek talk about it. Whatever I personally feel to the contrary, it is clear that most of the white population simply don't consider it a major issue or a pressing problem.
The economy was first and foremost in the minds of Czech voters in these elections. Health care, schools and public services were also important issues. Not one of these is a Republican strong point.
Sladek a spol had no solutions for the problems that people are really interested in. Thus voters looked elsewhere. Of all the reasons I have mentioned for the failure of the Republican Party in the recent election, I feel this last one is the most important.