Will the Czech Pirates sink the government?

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5 Min Read

According to the most recent polls, the radical leftist Czech Pirate Party have gained in voter preferences only months before parliamentary elections in Czechia. If elections were to be held now, a coalition between the Pirates and the party of The Mayors and Independents (STAN) would be in pole position with 27 percent, a centre-right electoral alliance called SPOLU would gain 21.5 percent, and the party of current prime minister Andrej Babiš would be relegated to third place with 21 percent.

The surprising shift in voter preferences has prompted the Pirates to start collecting signatures in Parliament in order to schedule a vote of confidence against the current government, and if successful, they planned to call for early parliamentary elections as soon as July. The move was mostly a demonstration of strength and a provocation that will play well with their young urban electorate. However, apart from embarrassing the prime minister, the motion has little practical effect, as elections are scheduled for Oct. 8 regardless.

For a vote of confidence, they needed the signature of 50 currently serving MPs, and although a united opposition could easily produce this amount of signatures, the fact is that the Pirates being on the far left could hardly gain the support of right-wing or centrist MP’s, even though they all would in principle support the removal of the Czech government. Eventually, on May 6, the Pirates have postponed their efforts to bring about an early election, quoting the president’s decision to officially schedule a date for autumn. Nevertheless, they have achieved their goal by creating controversy on the one hand, and gaining significant publicity in the Czech media on the other.

The Pirates’ rise in the polls could, among other factors, be explained by the publication of the results of the Vrbětice explosion inquiry, in which Russian secret agents have been implicated. The news has caused enormous outrage among the Czech public. While Prime Minister Babiš and President Miloš Zeman have both called for a measured response to the findings, the Pirates did manage to ride the wave of public anger, calling for the expulsion of Russian diplomats and for the condemnation of Russia in EU forums.

Although their pronounced and unequivocal stance did broadly reflect the public mood in the country, if recent news about the Vrbětice explosion are correct, this might come back to haunt them at the fall elections. It has been reported that the post-explosion investigation has found that thousands of rocket launchers, handguns and a large amount of ammunition are still missing from the inventory. This, according to the owners of the ammunition warehouse, cannot be explained by the dispersion of these items during the explosion.

Regardless of the fact whether Russian agents have been involved in the incident or not, the finding calls the original conclusion of the investigation regarding the motifs of the perpetrators into question.

Originally it was thought that the explosion was a result of a possible assassination attempt. If indeed reports of a large amount of missing weapons prove to be correct, this could shed an entirely new light on the incident, and call the Pirates’ vocal anti-Russian campaign into question. The incident, and the subsequent diplomatic tit-for-tat, has brought the Russian-Czech relationship to a new low, and this in turn is complicating the position of Czechia’s large and influential Russian community.

Even if the new polls were correct, and the radical left-wing Pirates could garner over a quarter of the votes with the liberal, pro-European coalition partners STAN, it is highly unlikely that they could form the next Czech government. Yet, a growth in their support could complicate the work for the next centrist government, which is the most likely scenario after the October elections.

Czechia had played an important part in strengthening the Visegrád Four regional alliance, often forming a common ground with the Polish and Hungarian governments in important issues, such as migration and measures against the coronavirus pandemic. Their common declaration of solidarity with Czechia against Russian involvement in Vrbětice was somewhat of a hard pill to swallow for Hungary, whose government is maintaining a cordial relationship with their Russian counterparts. Thus, the sudden rise of the far-left Pirates and their anti-Russian rhetoric might in the future further complicate the cohesion between V4 countries.

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