Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

A grand coalition, but of ill or good intent?

20. 11. 2006
Better late than never? Six months after the elections and a new government is finally shaping up based on a grand coalition of the two biggest parties, the Civic Democrats (ODS) and the Social Democrats (ČSSD), plus the Christian Democrats (KDU/ČSL), with ODS chairman Mirek Topolánek as prime minister.

One ČSSD goal is to connect the next, probably early, elections with the October 2008 Senate elections, thus achieving higher voter turnouts.

Then there is President Václav Klaus’ goal to secure his re-election with a respectable-looking coalition. Criticized for using key communist votes to sneak home in 2003, he wants to avoid this scenario in 2008. His nightmare would be to remind people of former President Edvard Beneš, who helped bring the postwar communists to power. Being constitutionally bound to let ČSSD leader Jiří Paroubek name a minority government backed by the communists would hurt Klaus. Beneš’s shadow would lurk over him for the remainder of history.

The big question is why on earth did the big parties not aim for a grand coalition right after the deadlocked election? Two responses occur. One concerns political culture. Our political culture isn’t mature enough to handle such a peculiar situation as a 100:100 elections draw. It seemed the two parliamentary bloc leaders really believed they’d be able to outsmart the rival bloc.

The second response stems from the municipal and Senate elections. Paroubek and Topolánek decided to present each other as the worst evil on the face of the planet, combined with outright stupidity and incompetence. It partially worked. Confrontational politics seemed to help both big parties. Although ODS won all the elections, ČSSD’s results didn’t fare badly – in fact its results were its best ever. So was the whole attitude very pragmatic? Perhaps the big party consultants advised, “Be as confrontational as possible, it will pay off.” And it did.

Anyway, let’s look at the emerging configuration’s pros and cons. Starting with the pros: the chance to govern two or three years could, with the parties’ goodwill, enable the adoption of key measures. Getting us back on track with the Maastricht criteria and the euro is essential and means cutting fiscal expenditure.

Preparing the basis of pension reform with a wide consensual base, limiting and simplifying the bureaucracy, lowering and simplifying taxes and establishing better functioning courts are other areas the coalition could make progress on without coming up against the locked gates of ideology.

On the con side, a failure to more or less equally share coalition power could visibly strengthen the ODS and prompt Paroubek to play the role of opposition, exploiting all mistakes and presenting the coalition as unsuccessful.

Both big parties would lose ground, with ODS support perhaps switching to the Greens, and Social Democrat support going to the communists.

The Communists would claim to be the only genuine opposition. Big party politicians would immerse themselves in sleazy deals and would fail to achieve compromises important to ordinary people. Germany’s failing grand coalition is a lesson in point. So let’s ask ourselves, “Do politicians have good will?” The new government will have enormous opportunities to achieve things. But will it have goodwill?

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