Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

ODS inner arguments are a healthy sign

31. 07. 2006
Practically the only news almost two months after the elections is the infighting within Civic Democrats (ODS).

In an interview in Hospodářské noviny last week, Prague Mayor Pavel Bém spoke in favor of a minority ODS government tolerated by the Social Democrats (ČSSD) to be created after the failure of Topolánek’s 100-vote, three-party coalition project. President Václav Klaus originally gave Topolánek three weeks to get approval for his coalition; the term is just expiring and Bém said that once it does, it will be time for a new solution.

Petr Nečas, vice chairman of the ODS, sharply criticized Bém by saying he couldn’t believe that Bém is actually sending a message to Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek (ČSSD) about how many days he should keep blocking the coalition project. This open squabble just confirms the rumors circulating within the ODS. Bém’s current reputation among some party factions isn’t very good. Bém, together with Topolánek and Nečas, were named to be chief ODS negotiators, but simultaneously there were rumors that Bém’s pre-election task was to get some materials about Paroubek from Prague City Hall. Bém, however, didn’t deliver. Either there was no dirt or he didn’t want to deliver out of fears that he could become a subject of Paroubek’s revenge.

Bém is very close to Klaus, but he isn’t alone in the ODS. Powerful MP Vlastimil Tlustý is also a Klaus favorite and supposedly has a stronger position for becoming prime minister if Topolánek fails. But it’s easy to criticize Bém because there’s no fear that he would ever vote against the ODS. He isn’t a member of Parliament.

In an interview with daily Mladá fronta Dnes, Topolánek was also unusually sharp in his criticism of Klaus over the three week limit he imposed. According to Topolánek, Klaus is pushing for a grand coalition, which would easily guarantee his self-interested goal of re-election as president. Klaus, the founder of the ODS, is still an honorary party chairman. Criticism from the ranks has been unthinkable, if not impossible.

What are the pros and cons of this development? It’s certainly a positive step that, slowly but surely, the ODS is achieving normality. Inner bickering and sharp disagreements are natural for the co-existence of any “living organism.” Ever since the “Sarajevo assassination” in 1997, when Klaus had to resign as prime minister, the ODS has only spoken in public with a unified voice touching not only ideological issues but every thinkable topic. The ODS reminded some people of a military organization, and not a political party. Now the ODS is breathing again, and is definitely back in the family of living creatures. Let’s just hope that the disputes over strategy and tactics can expand into a lively exchange touching on the party’s Euroscepticism, for example.

The ODS itself probably won’t be damaged by infighting in post-election disputes. What might be damaging for the ODS is that most Czech voters, unlike intellectuals, dislike internal party disputes. Our society isn’t mature in this respect. But early elections are also very improbable, so the ODS won’t lose anytime soon.

 

P.S.

Concerning the three-week limit set for Topolánek by the president, I think it’s perfectly rational. Actually it isn’t three weeks, as it is now two months after the elections. Does Topolánek think that he can play his coalition games forever? This country needs a government. And it needs one soon.

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