Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

Political first strikes and last resorts

26. 06. 2006
The political situation looks no better now, three weeks after the parliamentary elections, than it did after preliminary results trickled in.

Multiple scenarios remain open with a “grand coalition” or some kind of agreement between the victorious Civic Democrats (ODS) and the Social Democrats (ČSSD) the likely outcome.

The new lower chamber of Parliament convenes for the first time this week and will select its leadership, the chairman and vice chairmen, in a secret ballot. These crucial posts will be determined by a so-called simple majority of those deputies present, but will actually result from complicated behind-the-scenes negotiations and secretive deals. The selection of leaders will shed light on the strategy, tactics, and alliances of the parties, but it won’t predetermine the shape of the next coalition.

In the first days following the June 2–3 elections, there was much talk of ČSSD party leader and outgoing Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek as the natural compromise choice for chairman. Now insiders say that ODS vice chairwoman Miroslava Němcová will demand the post, which would mean that Vojtěch Filip, the head of the unreformed Communists (KSČM), would remain a vice chairman with ČSSD filling the remaining spot.

If Paroubek is elected chairman it will be the first clear sign that the ODS and ČSSD have agreed on some form of lasting cooperation. If Němcová and Filip are elected it will signal that the ODS believes it can hold together a coalition with the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and Greens and create a functional government. But with a hung Parliament, such a coalition would need to win over at least one left-wing MP to survive a vote of confidence, whether through a “yes” vote or by the deputy’s absence on that crucial day. So Němcová and Filip could also be elected with the understanding that Paroubek will slide as a replacement once a grand coalition is finally in the pipeline.

 

Silent support

A government incapable of mustering enough support to pass legislation makes no sense. But to get the support (silent or otherwise) of a single Communist won’t be easy to explain for ODS Chairman Mirek Topolánek, who took a tough anti-communist stance in the campaign.

This is the main reason why a grand coalition may be the only workable scenario, as the public dislikes the idea of another “opposition agreement” like we saw from 1998 to 2002, with an ODS minority government.

Even so, it’s still possible that we’ll see a repeat of a major push to weaken the ČSSD. Three years ago the Parliament elected ODS co-founder Vacláv Klaus president with the (silent) support of the Communists, who wanted to weaken the position of their left-wing rivals. We can’t rule out another attempted putsch. Should that come to pass, thanks to the secret ballot, the ODS can claim – like it did in 2003 – that it didn’t cooperate with the KSČM and chalk up ČSSD’s failure to get the chairmanships to dissention within the party itself. The Communists won’t say anything.

What seems clear is the strategy that the KSČM will employ. If the ČSSD enters a grand coalition with the ODS, they will cast aside their old “partners” in the 100-seat bloc, so the communists might launch a first strike against the ČSSD. To what degree remains to be seen.

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