Jan Macháček


Výsledky hledání

Czech Business Weekly

PM Paroubek and the government’s 101 club

02. 05. 2005
Two sets of pressing questions are being asked about Jiří Paroubek. The first regards his political intentions as the new prime minister.

Is Paroubek going to be able to save the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) from a freefall? Is he going to keep outgoing PM Stanislav Gross as a puppet party chairman, or will he get rid of him? The second set of questions concerns the abilities and capabilities of the new government. How much can it accomplish in a year?

Let us start with Paroubek. He seems to be a skilled politician — skilled in the sense that he can survive within the local political environment. Paroubek is very ambitious and hungry for power. He has sharp elbows and, if he wants, he can be pretty arrogant, which in politics is not necessarily a liability.

Under communism, Paroubek worked for years in a top-level managerial post at a state-owned company called Restaurants and Dining Rooms. His position involved deciding who was going to run the good restaurants and who was going to end up with the old, dirty ones; who would sell top-quality beer and who would not, etc. Paradoxically, this took place in a political environment similar to today’s, where favors and counter-favors, factions, groups of friends and loyalists, and silent networks of the privileged run things behind the scenes. Power belonged to those who kept sensitive information about the others. That is the culture from which the new PM comes.

Paroubek is skilled in political maneuvering. In recent weeks he has shown the ability to be for everything, and with everybody, at the same time. Originally, Paroubek supported a minority government based on the silent support, or tolerance, of the Communists. Then he became prime minister of the so-called 101 government, a reference to the number of MPs, and now says the only alternative is early elections. On the one hand, he keeps the pragmatic and educated economic reformer Martin Jahn in his government. On the other, he has Health Minister Milada Emmerová with her proto-communist manners and policies.

Paroubek will be no puppet of Stanislav Gross, whose days in politics are numbered. He will get rid of the erstwhile PM fairly quickly. The other question is whether Paroubek will manage to increase his party’s popularity. The answer is probably not. He seems to have the charisma of a regional soccer bureaucrat, and that is not enough for a political leader who is supposed to be able to reverse trends.

As far as the government’s chances of actually doing something are concerned, I tend to be very skeptical. First, no government in the last year of a political cycle manages to do anything positive. The biggest single obstacle is the disintegration and lack of discipline in the ČSSD parliamentary club. The coalition will be glad to push through the annual budget in the fall. It is also probable that it will manage to lower taxes according to a proposal by Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka that would especially benefit those on the lower rungs of the income ladder.

But any savings or budget cuts that are necessary to fulfill EU agreements will face fierce opposition within Parliament and the new coalition. And because politicians here remain prisoners of special interests, there is almost no chance of making the needed changes to the bankruptcy code.

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