The Czech Republic is a parliamentary democracy in which political rights and civil liberties are generally respected. However, in recent years, the country has experienced several corruption scandals and political disputes that have hampered normal legislative activity. Illiberal rhetoric and the influence of powerful business entities in the political arena are increasingly visible.
- Legislative elections held in October were generally deemed free and fair, and resulted in the formation of a coalition government comprising two electoral alliances—the Together coalition (SPOLU) and the Pirates-Mayors coalition. The new government is headed by SPOLU leader Petr Fiala, who was sworn in as prime minister in November.
- President Miloš Zeman was hospitalized with a serious illness the day after the October elections, preventing him from appointing the new government for over a month. The public was given little information about the president’s condition, leading to speculation that Zeman had become unable to execute his duties; the president later recovered and denied the allegations.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The president is the head of state but holds limited powers and is directly elected to up to two five-year terms. The January 2018 presidential election was considered credible. President Miloš Zeman of the Party of Civic Rights was reelected, defeating his opponent, Jiří Drahoš, in the second round of voting.
The prime minister is the head of government and holds most executive power. In November 2021, Petr Fiala of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) was sworn in as prime minister following free and fair legislative elections the previous month. Fiala leads a coalition government comprising two pro-European Union (EU) electoral alliances—SPOLU and the Pirates-Mayors coalition—that agreed to govern together in order to oust the former prime minister, controversial billionaire Andrej Babiš of the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) party.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The 200 members of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament, are elected to four-year terms by proportional representation. The Senate, the upper chamber, which holds limited legislative power, has 81 members elected for six-year terms, with one-third up for election every two years.
The October 2021 legislative elections were held in accordance with international standards and saw a voter turnout of 65.4 percent. The ANO won a plurality of 72 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, while SPOLU—comprising the ODS, the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL), and Tradition, Responsibility, Prosperity 09 (TOP 09)—came in second with 71 seats. A coalition of the liberal Czech Pirate Party and centrist Mayors and Independents (STAN) took 37 seats, and the populist, anti-immigration Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party won 20 seats.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
The electoral framework is robust and generally well implemented by the State Election Commission. However, the body does not always operate with transparency. In 2021, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) expressed disappointment that most of its previous recommendations have gone unaddressed.
In February 2021, a Constitutional Court ruling amended the electoral law to remove provisions that unduly advantaged larger parties; changes included reducing the vote threshold for coalitions entering Parliament. Parliament passed the amendments in April, and President Zeman signed the changes into law in May. The reforms were broadly accepted by stakeholders, and the October elections, which were administered according to the reformed electoral law, were deemed well organized by international election observers.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties are free to form and operate.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Power rotates between parties regularly. The opposition holds a large majority in the Senate. Two new opposition alliances were formed in the runup to the October 2021 legislative elections: the liberal Pirates-Mayors coalition, comprising the Pirate Party and STAN; and the center-right SPOLU, composed of the ODS, the KDU-ČSL, and TOP-09. Together, the blocs won a majority of seats in the 2021 elections, moving the ANO to the opposition. Neither the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) nor the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) occupy any seats in the Chamber of Deputies following the 2021 elections, marking the first time either party has lost parliamentary representation since 1990.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
The influence of politically connected media outlets has been a growing concern since a significant controversy arose in 2017 involving the daily newspaper MF Dnes, which is among the assets then prime minister Babiš placed in a trust to comply with 2016 conflict-of-interest legislation. Critics have accused him of using MF Dnes and another newspaper his trust owns, Lidove noviny, to advance his political and business interests. In 2019, Petr Kellner, then the country’s wealthiest man, acquired the company that operates one of the most influential Czech television channels, TV Nova. Reports suggest Kellner helped mobilize a network of experts and journalists to improve China’s image in the country, which he refuted.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
By law, all citizens have full political rights and electoral opportunities. However, Roma lack meaningful political representation. After the 2021 legislative elections, women hold 50 of the 200 seats in the Chamber of Deputies—the most in the Chamber’s history—and 12 of the 81 seats in the Senate. However, women remain underrepresented in politics and public bodies generally.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Elected officials are duly installed and generally able to craft and implement policy. Political polarization and controversies surrounding former prime minister Babiš contributed to long-running disputes in the Parliament, and conflicts between Babiš and President Zeman also deepened the nation’s political instability.
In 2020, president of the Senate Miloš Vystrčil visited Taiwan despite the disapproval of both the coalition government and the president. The visit was met with pressure and threats from the Chinese government. In response, President Zeman announced that he would not include Vystrčil in foreign policy briefings. In June 2021, the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security sought to impeach Zeman, declaring him “unfit for office,” due in part to this incident; the impeachment bid was unsuccessful.
Concerns about Zeman’s fitness for office escalated in October. The day after the legislative elections, the president—who is tasked with appointing the new government—became ill and was hospitalized, leaving him unable to participate in postelection negotiations for several weeks. The public was given little information about the president’s condition, and officials issued misleading statements about his health, leading to concern that Zeman had become unable to execute his duties. Though the president later denied such allegations, the formation of a new government was delayed due to Zeman’s illness, and observers continued to question whether the president had been unduly influenced by his inner circle during his hospitalization.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption remains a problem in Czech politics, but institutions have generally been responsive to corruption allegations and scandals. In 2017, Czech police and the European Anti-Fraud Office began an investigation into then prime minister Babiš following allegations of improprieties, known as the Stork’s Nest resort fraud scandal, regarding the disbursement of EU subsidy funds to one of his firms, Agrofert, over which Babiš still had de facto ownership. Investigations into the Stork’s Nest affair continued during 2021, and in August, the European Commission threatened to suspend payments of EU subsidies to the Czech Republic over suspected conflicts of interest in Babiš’s business dealings.
Another scandal involving Babiš emerged a week before the October 2021 elections, when the Pandora Papers, an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that exposed corruption in the international financial system, revealed that Babiš had used offshore companies to secretly purchase a $22 million French chateau in 2009. Tax experts have speculated that the complicated financial arrangements underlying the transaction were designed to hide ownership of the property or the source of the funds used to make the purchase.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
The government often fails to proactively publish information about procurement processes, public officials’ salaries, and public spending. Members of the public must request a time-sensitive password to view asset declarations online. In 2018, new legislation came into force requiring that the “ultimate beneficial owners” of companies and trust funds be disclosed in a register. Although the register is not available to the public, law enforcement agencies, the courts, and several other entities can access it.
During 2020 and 2021, government officials repeatedly issued inaccurate or misleading information about the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including incorrectly announcing the number of COVID-19 testing sites opened by the government in March 2020. Government reports later issued corrections for such errors.
In October 2020, the Interior Ministry proposed a legislative amendment that would allow officials to withhold information pertaining to crisis situations that they believe, if made public, would endanger the management of that crisis. Critics argued that this restriction of oversight would give authorities an excuse to not share sensitive information with the public. The bill remained awaiting approval in the parliament at the end of 2021.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
The media operate relatively freely, and the government does not place undue restrictions on content. However, prominent politicians have contributed to a hostile environment for journalists in recent years, including both Zeman and Babiš, who have made inflammatory remarks about the press. Media outlets critical of the government are sometimes denied accreditation, and journalists from these outlets are frequently prevented from attending government press conferences. In September 2021, several journalists were excluded from a joint press conference held by Babiš and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, drawing criticism from a number of international and domestic media rights organizations.
The independence of the country’s public broadcaster, Czech Television (ČT), came under threat in March 2021, when then prime minister Babiš attempted to appoint four ANO-affiliated members to the ČT’s board; the opposition blocked the appointments in the parliament.
Legislation protects private ownership of media outlets, but concerns remain about the extent to which the media is controlled by wealthy business figures and its potential impact on journalists’ ability to investigate commercial interests. Although former prime minister Babiš placed his significant media holdings in a trust while in office, the trust was controlled in part by his close associates. Critics have accused both of his newspapers of biased coverage, claiming that they are being used as tools to advance Babiš’s political interests. In 2020, another Czech billionaire, the late Petr Kellner, bought Central European Media Enterprises (CME), which owns more than 30 television channels broadcasting to five countries. Although Kellner denied any political motives, his acquisition of CME raised questions about his influence on public discourse. Kellner’s family took over the management of CME after his sudden death in March 2021.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
The government generally upholds freedom of religion. Tax benefits and financial support are provided to registered religious groups. The state has initiated a process to return land confiscated from churches by the former communist regime, which will take place over the next 30 years.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is respected. Ceremonial presidential approval is required for academic positions.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
People are generally able to express controversial or political opinions without fear of surveillance or retribution.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is upheld in practice, and demonstrations take place frequently and without incident. Protests took place peacefully and without undue interference from the authorities during 2021.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Tens of thousands of registered nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in the country, generally without interference from the government or security forces. However, the environment for civil society has grown increasingly antagonistic as the government and its allies have harshly criticized some outspoken NGOs.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Trade unions and professional associations function freely, though they are weak in practice. Workers have the right to strike, though this right is limited for essential public employees, such as hospital workers and air traffic controllers.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||3.003 4.004|
The judiciary is largely independent, though its complexity and multilayered composition have led to slow delivery of judgments. The 2019 appointment of Marie Benešová as Justice Minister has raised concerns over the independence of the judiciary. Benešová has openly supported Babiš since her appointment, publicly downplaying his involvement in the so-called Stork’s Nest subsidy fraud scandal and, in October 2021, claiming that information about Babiš contained in the Pandora Papers investigation was part of a campaign against both the then prime minister and the ANO. Additionally, after resigning in May 2021, former attorney general Pavel Zeman claimed that he had stepped down due to political pressure from Benešová; she denied the allegations.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
The rule of law generally prevails in civil and criminal matters. Despite corruption and political pressure within law enforcement agencies, the office of the public prosecutor has become more independent in recent years. However, the recent investigation of former prime minister Babiš and his nomination for Justice Minister, Marie Benešová, showed that political interests may interfere with due process.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
The Czech Republic is free from war and insurgencies. However, prisons are overcrowded and at times unsanitary. In June 2021, police intervened in a fight involving Stanislav Tomáš, a Romany man, pinning him to the ground while kneeling on his back; Tomáš later died in an ambulance. A wave of protests followed Tomáš's death, prompting calls for an investigation into police brutality against Roma people. Police defended their actions and denied any responsibility for Tomáš's death, and a court-ordered autopsy found that Tomáš had died from a methamphetamine overdose. In December, the Deputy Public Defender of Rights announced that she had started an investigation into the incident.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
The 2009 Antidiscrimination Act provides for equal treatment regardless of sex, race, age, disability, belief, or sexual orientation. However, high-level public officials have made insensitive comments that some critics have called discriminatory. Roma face discrimination in the job market and significantly poor housing conditions than non-Roma, as well as occasional threats and violence from right-wing groups. Many Roma children attend ethnically segregated schools. The COVID-19 pandemic deepened inequality particularly for low-income families with more than one child and Roma students, as classes were moved online and required stable internet connection and often multiple computers per household.
Women are underrepresented at the highest levels of business. According to data from the European Commission, the gender pay gap in the Czech Republic is one of the largest in the EU.
Anti-Muslim attitudes have increased in recent years amid the country’s legal battle with the EU about accepting refugee quotas. The populist and anti-immigration SPD continued to spread Islamophobic rhetoric characterizing Islam as “incompatible with freedom and democracy.” These positions are episodically approved by some of the highest representatives of state.
Asylum seekers are routinely detained, and conditions in detention centers are generally poor. Only about 11 percent of applicants were granted asylum in 2021.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education. During 2020–21, the government periodically imposed COVID-19-related movement restrictions, though the measures were in line with public health guidance.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
The rights to own property and operate private businesses are established in the law and upheld in practice.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
Authorities generally do not restrict social freedoms, though same-sex marriages are not legally recognized. While gender discrimination is legally prohibited, sexual harassment in the workplace appears to be fairly common.
Parliament has yet to ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. Reports show that only a small number of perpetrators of gender-based violence face criminal charges.
At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, organizations supporting victims of gender-based violence reported an increase in calls received. Due to COVID-19-related movement restrictions, victims were often forced to stay in the same household as their abusers.
In September 2019, the government cut funding for NGOs providing support for survivors of gender-based and domestic violence by 70 percent. This has severely limited counseling services and legal support for those who have experienced gender-based violence.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Human trafficking remains a problem as organized criminal groups use the country as a source, transit, and destination point; women and children are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The government has made serious efforts to fund protective services and other resources for survivors and to prosecute perpetrators.
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