Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

Campaign promises, or trying to buy votes

03. 04. 2006
Some political analysts point out serious flaws in the democratic process in developing countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Brazil.

One major indication of a poorly functioning democracy is when votes can be bought with cash, with rich landlords paying for the votes of the laborers who work on their properties.

Of course, buying votes is forbidden in the Czech Republic, where politicians can only give away guláš at campaign rallies. But the two systems aren’t all that different. In the early 1990s, money and taxes weren’t major election issues; that situation led some analysts, myself included, to propose that voting with one’s wallet would actually drive politicians to develop better economic policies.

But those days are gone, and Czech politics has gone from extreme to extreme. Today, with major international issues like NATO and the EU off the table and the economy doing well, it seems that the whole campaign is now about buying votes.

The Civic Democrats (ODS) are throwing numbers at the public through their campaign billboards that pinpoint how much members of particular professions, for example doctors or construction workers, would earn with ODS in office. But isn’t it a long-standing right-wing concept that good doctors and other professionals should earn 10 times more than bad ones? Why, then, is a right-wing party making promises for the average person, when the party’s ideology holds that no one should remain average?

Meanwhile, the Social Democrats (ČSSD) are promising Kč 120,000 (€ 4,190) for every newborn child, although they recently modified that pledge, saying that most of the money would be in the form of coupons. And Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek often declares what he thinks the crown-euro exchange rate will be in three years, or what the average wage will be.

ČSSD and ODS politicians don’t talk about the Czech position and role in the EU, the UN, NATO or the world. Instead, the two leading parties’ strategy is clear: if they promise voters money, they expect to win votes. Is that really so different from an election campaign in the Philippines?

“Citizens shouldn’t be afraid of politicians not fulfilling their electoral promises. The really horrifying possibility is that they could fulfill their promises,” Czech National Bank (ČNB) vice governor Miroslav Singer told the daily Mladá fronta Dnes. His comment is on the mark. But which party’s promises are more dangerous?

The answer depends on the euro currency. The ČSSD has historically been an EU-friendly party, and is unlikely to change that position. If the ČSSD dominates the next government, it’s very probable that it would deflate its campaign promises in order for the economy to remain in line with the Maastricht convergence criteria for joining the eurozone.

The ODS, on the other hand, makes populist promises like zero value-added tax (VAT) for food. It also promises a one-year tax holiday for small entrepreneurs. Experts calculate that if the ODS fulfills all of its promises, it would create a deficit of Kč 150 billion in just one year.

The Euroskeptic ODS says that adopting the euro is not a priority. But in fact, adopting the euro isn’t just an option, it’s a duty, and many of the ODS’ goals are at odds with EU policy. If the ODS gets to power and follows the example of Poland’s conservative nationalism, it might be driving the Czech Republic toward conflict with Brussels.

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