Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

As elections approach, the right looks weak

21. 11. 2005
It’s just about six months before the elections now and therefore a good time to begin looking at which parties are likely to make it into Parliament’s lower chamber.

These days, only four parties seem capable of winning the minimum 5 percent of the vote necessary to gain seats – the Civic Democrats (ODS), the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), the Social Democrats (ČSSD) and the Communists (KSČM). All of these will easily surpass the 5 percent threshold. The traditionally small party of the Christian Democrats will win the fewest votes; they tend to get the same number of seats regardless of who is in power. With these four parties, three post-election scenarios are possible:

The ODS and the KDU-ČSL will be able to form a majority. Some of the recent polls have indicated that this is less likely because chances for the parties of the left are growing. It’s not the numbers that count, say sociologists and pollsters. It’s dynamism and trends. And the trends are currently predicting a majority for the left. But the parties’ dynamism can be still overcome.

Second scenario: a small chance exists that Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek’s popularity will start to falter. Recently, he has been looking for something fresh and new to capitalize on. People might start to get bored or think that he’s too tough or too arrogant.

But the prime minister has already proved that he can manipulate his image to serve the needs of the moment. When necessary, he plays the tough guy, and when the polls say he should be slightly softer he adjusts accordingly.

The last chance for the right is for a major corruption scandal to evolve around the ČSSD. That’s not very likely. Moreover, people are growing increasingly cynical about corruption scandals. And the ČSSD’s lack of strong figureheads means that its popularity is connected to one man – Paroubek. Currently, the ČSSD has a lot going for it. The economy is doing better than ever, unemployment is falling, investments are flowing in. Among other things, we’re now enjoying the fruits of EU membership, which the ČSSD supported much more clearly than the ODS.

In this environment, there’s not much to compel voters to seek a change. We can expect the ČSSD to continue to warn against ODS “social experiments” in health care, pensions, the social system and taxation. The flat tax isn’t an experiment anymore, but the ČSSD will definitely keep emphasizing that it is.

The ODS can try to emphasize its plans to simplify bureaucracy for small and medium-sized businesses, but how many SME entrepreneurs are there? Enough to win the elections? It seems that the ODS’ tactic will be to try to frighten people before the elections, saying Paroubek’s coalition with the Communists is a done deal. But will people believe it? And if they believe it, will they really care?

Chances are about equal for either a grand coalition of the ČSSD and ODS, or a ČSSD minority government, which would be based on silent support from the Communists. On the one hand, Paroubek is pragmatic and has experience with a grand coalition on the Prague municipal level. In fact, as deputy mayor, he was one of the most prominent figures in that coalition.

On the other hand, the Communists aren’t demanding much for their support – they just want a little more legitimacy. Rumor has it that the Commies would be happy with only some lower managerial jobs in the state administration and a few diplomatic posts.

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