The ANO party of millionaire businessman Andrej Babiš made a breakthrough in regional elections, winning most votes in nine of the 13 areas being contested.
The Social Democrats scored highest in just the Vysočina and South Bohemia regions with the Christian Democrats on top in the Zlin region and the movement Mayors for the Liberec Region polling best in that part of north Bohemia. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia was beaten by ANO into second place in their previous bastion, the Ustí region.
The outcome of voting which took place on Friday and Saturday will be a blow for the biggest government party, the Social Democrats, headed by prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka. They had previously dominated nearly all regional assemblies across the country with leading roles in 12 out of 13 regions and regional governors, or hejtmen, in 11 of them.
Sobotka said as the results came in that it was clear that after eight years of Social Democratic dominance at regional level people were looking for a change and his party had to find new policies to win broader support in the future. Overall, ANO landed around 21 percent of all the votes nationwide in the regional contests pushing the Social Democrats, with just over 15 percent, into second place. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia gained around 11 percent support, the Civic Democrats just short of 10 percent, and Christian Democrats around 6.5 percent. Around 34.5 percent of Czechs turned out to vote in the polls for all regions, with the exception of the capital Prague.
Twenty-seven Senate seats, a third of the overall representation of the upper house of parliament were also being contested. The regional turnout is around two percentage points lower than when similar polls took place four years ago. Nonetheless, the vote will be taken as a significant signpost of party positions ahead of elections to the lower house of parliament due at the latest in just 12 months. As well as confirming the long term poll topping position of ANO against the Social Democrats, the elections were also seen as a contest for leadership on the opposition centre-right of the party spectrum. There, the Civic Democrats (ODS) and party of mayors, STAN, appear to have fared a lot better than TOP 09, which won just under 3.5 percent of support nationwide in the regional polling.
In the first round of Senate voting, the Social Democrats who were defending 10 seats, are certain to be a shrunken force in a new look Senate, where they have been the dominant party. They are likely to have candidates in the run off second round of Senate voting,pitting the two top scoring candidates from the first round, in just eight districts. ANO have candidates in 14 contests and the Christian Democrats in eight with 97 percent of counting being completed. Second round voting takes place on Friday and Saturday.
Given the shape of the run-off contests, it is already clear that the current government coalition will however retain its majority in the Senate. The Senate has the power to block and amend government legislation although the lower house can reassert its position in a fresh vote.