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The center-left Czech Social Democratic Party and the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS) led parliamentary elections held in May 2010. The president appointed ODS leader Petr Nečas as prime minister, and he formed a coalition government with two smaller parties, replacing a year-old caretaker government. Parliament later passed an austerity package that cut public-sector wages by 10 percent. Also in 2010, the country came under renewed criticism over its failure to correct discrimination against Romany children in the education system.
Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 amid the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Soviet forces helped establish a communist government after World War II, and in 1968 they crushed the so-called Prague Spring, a period of halting political liberalization under reformist leader Alexander Dubček.
In December 1989, a series of peaceful anticommunist demonstrations led by dissident Václav Havel and the Civic Forum opposition group resulted in the resignation of the government, in what became known as the Velvet Revolution. Open elections were held the following year. In 1992, a new constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms were adopted, and the country began an ambitious program of political and economic reform under Václav Klaus of the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS), who became prime minister that year. In 1993, the state dissolved peacefully into separate Czech and Slovak republics.
Close parliamentary elections in 1998 brought the center-left Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) to power, though an “opposition agreement” between the CSSD and the ODS limited meaningful political competition and brought about several years of political gridlock. Klaus was elected president by Parliament in 2003.
The Czech Republic joined the European Union (EU) in May 2004, but the CSSD’s poor showing in June elections for the European Parliament prompted Prime Minister Vladimir Špidla’s resignation and a period of instability in the ruling coalition.
The 2006 lower house elections produced a chamber that was evenly divided between left- and right-leaning parties, leading to a series of short-lived, ODS-led coalitions and caretaker governments. Klaus set early parliamentary elections for October 2009, but the Constitutional Court blocked them, leaving in place a caretaker government—headed by independent Jan Fischer—that had succeeded a failed ODS-led government in May.
The CSSD and the ODS led the May 2010 parliamentary elections, capturing 56 and 53 seats in the lower house, respectively. The center-right, free-market Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09 (TOP 09)party placed third with 41 seats, followed by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) with 26 and the right-leaning Public Affairs (VV) party with 24. In June, Klaus appointed ODS leader Petr Nečas as prime minister, and he formed a center-right coalition government with TOP 09 and VV, pledging to implement judicial reforms and continue the fight against corruption. The new coalition held the strongest parliamentary majority since the country’s 1993 split with Slovakia.
As part of a bid to trim the budget deficit in the wake of a damaging 2009 recession, the new government pledged to cut public-sector wages by 10 percent in 2011 and replace seniority-based raises with a system of personal bonuses. Such unpopular austerity measures hurt the ruling parties’ performance in October regional and Senate elections. The opposition CSSD took 12 of the 27 Senate seats at stake, giving it a total of 41 in the 81-seat chamber. With other opposition parties, the CSSD now had the power to obstruct legislation passed by the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. At the end of October, the lower house declared a legislative state of emergency, allowing critical budget bills to be passed using expedited procedures. The ruling coalition’s austerity plan, which was passed by Parliament in November, was scheduled to take effect in January 2011.
The Czech Republic is an electoral democracy. Since 1989, the country has enjoyed free and fair elections. The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament, has 200 members elected for four-year terms by proportional representation. The Senate has 81 members elected for six-year terms, with one-third up for election every two years. The president, elected by Parliament for five-year terms, appoints judges, the prime minister, and other cabinet members, but has few other formal powers. The prime minister, whose recommendations determine the cabinet appointments, relies on support from a majority in the Chamber of Deputies to govern.