The main Czech opposition group won in most large cities in weekend municipal elections, mobilizing protest votes against the government’s handling of the energy crisis.
The ANO party of billionaire former Prime Minister Andrej Babis came on top in eight of 13 regional centers, while losing to government parties in the capital Prague and in the second biggest city of Brno, according to results from the two-day ballot that ended on Saturday. ANO would have to find partners to rule in the cities where it won.
The Czech Republic’s worst cost-of-living crisis in three decades is fueling discontent among the population. The opposition, including the far-right group SPD, is gaining popularity by criticizing the government for failing to do enough to help people and businesses cope with surging energy bills.
“The main driver of ANO’s increased support was that it partially managed to turn the elections into a vote about the government,” said Lubomir Kopecek, a political science professor at Masaryk University in Brno. “The result can be seen as a small success for ANO. But it’s no earthquake.”
Read more: Energy Crisis Empowers Europe’s Populists Harnessing Anger
The nine-month-old ruling alliance has pledged to cap prices of electricity and natural gas for both households and small and medium-sized companies. It expects to finance the estimated 130 billion-koruna ($5.1 billion) costs with proceeds from windfall taxes and dividends from state companies.
Municipal elections traditionally reflect mainly local agendas and have little direct effect on central government policies, although they’re seen as a test of popularity for the ruling parties. In overall terms, roughly two-thirds of around 60,000 mandates for municipal assemblies across the country went to independent candidates, according to calculations by the Seznamzpravy.cz website.
(Updates with analyst comments in fourth paragraph.)
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