The Right is giddy with excitement about the recent election outcome in the Czech Republic. However, privacy and civil liberties advocates will retain a voice, thanks to a stronger-than-expected performance by the youth-oriented, anti-establishment Pirate Party.
Despite a decisive victory by right-wing populist Andrej Babis, the Pirate Party in the Czech Republic made a strong showing. It’s not surprising that an anti-establishment billionaire won a resounding victory at the polls there, given the continuing trend of right-wing populism rising around the world. Wait a minute... an anti-establishment, populist billionaire winning an election? Where have we seen that before? Yes, that's the big story, especially on the heels of a similar result in the recent Austrian elections.
What is equally significant, though, is the surprising strength shown by the barely eight-years-old Czech Pirate Party. The party has the potential to be a counterbalance to the right-wing government. The Pirates' program focuses on political transparency, e-government, small businesses over larger corporate interests, tax avoidance prevention, more direct public participation in decision making, and civil liberties, among other things. Pirate was established in many European nations as a protest against the restriction of the civil rights of individual citizens by governments.
The Pirate Party is led by 37-year-old activist Ivan Bartos. It has made technology a central platform of its election pledge. The party has campaigned on jailing financial wrongdoers and preventing tech from “becoming a tool of digital totalitarianism.” Alongside the far-left rhetoric, the Pirates’ plans to push public WiFi, increase fiber connectivity, and regulate roaming costs have caught the attention of many (mainly young) Czech voters.
This is the first time that the Pirate Party has won seats. It came in third with 10.8% of the vote. Meanwhile, the anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-EU Freedom and Direct Democracy party took fourth place, with 10.6% of the vote. Each party will be awarded 22 seats. The Pirates will make their debut in parliament, with their 22 seats among the 200 seats in the lower chamber of Parliament.
This is the ninth election for the Pirate Party. It is also a significant one, with the Czech Pirate Party becoming the fourth Pirate Party to reach a national or federal parliament (after Sweden, Germany, and Iceland). It should be noted, too, that this is the Czech Pirates’ first entry into legislation on a nationwide poll.
It may well be, as some proclaim, that chaos will result from Andrej Babis' attempts to form a governing coalition having garnered only 78 seats. In an environment like that, the Pirate Party may be able to wield some influence, despite being overshadowed by older, more traditional political parties. This, of course, may just be wishful thinking by the liberal Left, following victory after victory of right-wing populists across Europe.
Corruption abounds on both sides in politics, so the Pirate Party’s anti-corruption stance may have been part of its appeal. According to Otto Eibl, a political scientist at Masaryk University in Brno,
“The image of politics is corrupt. It is quite easy to offer an alternative. When you say, ‘All those old politicians are bad, and I will be good,’ most people want to believe you.”
Yes, the Pirate Party’s youthful bent stands in stark comparison to that, and may well have resonated with voters. Milos Gregor, an analyst at the International Institute for Political Science, comments,
“The elections have confirmed the downfall of traditional parties. With as many as nine parties in the government, we will most likely face a turbulent four years.”
In that scenario, the Pirate Party might actually hold some sway and, as I said, act as a counter-weight to the right-leaning government. It will be interesting not only to see how this develops in the Czech Republic but how future elections in which the Pirate Party is contending evolve. It bears watching, so stay tuned!
Opinions are the writer's own.