Jan Macháček

Hledání

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Czech Business Weekly

Back to square one, in search of a coalition

17. 07. 2006
Six weeks after the parliamentary elections, there’s only one real concrete development: It’s finally clear what the Social Democrats (ČSSD) want.

Party chairman and outgoing Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek last week repeatedly said, and even put into writing, that of all options for breaking the political deadlock, the center-left party prefers installing a government of professionals and experts, that is a caretaker government, whose members would be chosen by ČSSD and the Civic Democrats (ODS), who won the election but lack a majority in Parliament.

In essence, this means a grand coalition – precisely the arrangement that the ČSSD had been refusing because it would “betray the voters.” Paroubek was apparently studying the opinion polls, which strongly showed that ČSSD supporters were against an ODS-ČSSD government.

What’s behind the change of course? Paroubek finally understands that a compromise deal between the two largest parties, which respectively have 81 and 74 seats in the lower house of Parliament, is simply unavoidable. The only other possibility for forming a majority would be for ODS leader Mirek Topolánek’s center-right coalition, which includes the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and the Greens (SZ) to reach across the aisle to the Communists (KSČM) – and that could only be a short-term move to isolate the ČSSD.

Paroubek’s ČSSD is pushing for an agreement on the shape of the next government before a deal about the chairpersons of Parliament is closed. The strategy is clear. Paroubek wants to make a deal with Topolánek, who’s been asked by President Václav Klaus to form a government.

Paroubek is afraid that if Topolánek fails to form a government, in a second round Klaus would simply ask another ODS member to do so, and it’s very probable that person would be current Prague Mayor Pavel Bém.

Although Paroubek and Bém cooperated for many years in a grand coalition of sorts in the Prague City Hall, the ČSSD leader has realized that it’s better to strike a deal with Topolánek than with Bém, who’s much closer to Klaus, the founder of ODS. Any coalition (or tolerated minority government) led by Bém would increase Klaus’ influence and that’s something Paroubek wants to avoid.

Shutting out Bém is the main reason that the ČSSD is blocking the vote for parliamentary chairpersons or, in other words, is demanding stable, compromise candidates who will remain in the posts through the whole electoral cycle. Meanwhile, Paroubek is also promising the ODS it will support changes in the electoral system that would help to limit the influence of troublesome smaller parties.

What Topolánek really wants now is harder to fathom. He’s seriously pushing a coalition with no chance of winning a confidence vote without support from a ČSSD or KSČM deputy, but he isn’t even carrying out negotiations, even in secret, to secure these votes. Instead he presents Klaus with a crazy idea about special elections for one additional deputy, and then invites the ČSSD into his coalition.

In a normal country, under similar circumstances, there’d already be a grand coalition – a more suitable option for the ČSSD, which campaigned as the party that would save a prosperous Czech economy from the ODS’ economic “experiments” (chiefly a flat tax). Grand coalitions, in a way, are more about achieving stability than ushering in major reforms. But this seems to be the inevitable result.

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