Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

Political crisis is a drama of self-interest

14. 03. 2005
How will the current government crisis resolve itself? For clues, consider the interests of the major players involved, the political parties. Watching them will tell you more than just listening to what our politicians say.

Let us start with the Social Democrats (ČSSD). Many people view the crisis as a crisis of government, but it should be looked at, above all, through the eyes of Parliament’s deputies — those with the most to lose from early elections. Many could find themselves out of a job.

It is in the interests of the ČSSD MPs to finish their regular term and oppose early elections because it seems clear now that the party will lose at least half of its parliamentary seats in the next election. The average ČSSD deputy does not possess serious professional qualifications and Parliament provides these people (and their families) with much higher incomes than did their original professions. The political power of the ČSSD will certainly be diminished after the next elections, and it will not be easy for these people to get jobs doing political lobbying, advising, etc. In the regions and municipalities the ČSSD has gotten weaker, and there are almost no lucrative jobs waiting for the dozens of soon-to-be-unemployed MPs.

Being in the government is nice because it means power and the chance to influence decisions on issues like privatizations. But any kind of temporary government without the support of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) will be so weak that it will ultimately lack the courage to decide on things like the sale of Český Telecom.

The ČSSD is faced with a clash between the short-term self-interests of its members and the long-term interests of the party, which may survive as a stable leftist or left-of-center alternative to the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS). But these aspirations would be dashed by cooperation with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM). Any interim government without the KDU-ČSL would either do nothing or would need the support of the Communists, which would lead to the further disintegration of ČSSD.

The Freedom Union has no chance of surviving, and its deputies would certainly oppose preliminary elections. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that the Freedom Union would back a government supported by the Communists. The KDU-ČSL does not really care. The party is traditionally happy with its 9 percent to 12 percent of seats. But it also likes to govern and does not enjoy the opposition role. The KDU-ČSL is under pressure from its future government partner, the ODS, to kill the current government as soon as possible or face the possibility that the ODS might create a coalition with someone else — possibly even the ČSSD — that would not be much bigger.

The policy of the ODS is clear. Measured by the chance to get the highest possible number of Parliament seats, it needs elections as soon as possible. The economy is doing well, and the ČSSD should be disintegrated so it does not get the chance to reap the rewards of this prosperity. This is a chance for the ODS to be the party in charge of privatizing Český Telecom and ČEZ.

So two things are equally probable — early elections or a minority ČSSD government in the future. But any chance that the current government will survive until regular elections is slim.

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