Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

Who’s on first? The dialogue in politics...

18. 12. 2006
Surprisingly for some — and for some evidently not — Mirek Topolánek announced Wednesday evening that he’s ending all negotiations with the Social Democrats (ČSSD).

He will probably name the same (or a very similar) government to the one that’s departing these days and that lost the October vote of confidence.

No doubt, breaking negotiations with the ČSSD has been Topolánek’s goal for at least several weeks. A month ago, Jaroslav Kmenta, a journalist for daily Mladá fronta Dnes, secretly recorded Topolánek’s adviser, Marek Dalík, saying, “We’ll just pretend we’re seriously negotiating with them [the ČSSD] and then we will mess them up.” Dalík also said that the ODS will try to get some ČSSD MPs to leave the Social Democrats’ parliamentary club and work with the ODS.

The ČSSD seems to have forgotten about the incident. They took negotiations very seriously and, during talks for creating a super-grand coalition of the ODS, ČSSD and Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), they offered a lot of compromises such as simple taxation, cutting costs on mandatory expenditures and pension reform. Many were hopeful that the Czech Republic would have a stable government lasting long enough to make reform steps to put our public finances in order.

Now it seems clear ODS was waiting for two issues to be resolved before dumping the ČSSD. One was a truce to end arbitration with Japanese investment bank Nomura. If the ČSSD had loudly protested, the arbitration would have quickly ended and the whole affair wouldn’t have concluded the way Finance Minister Vlastimil Tlustý and his negotiators had planned it. The second issue was the budget. It’s no coincidence that the ČSSD approved the budget only a few hours prior to Topolánek announcing he had decided to break negotiations with them.

Perhaps the ČSSD actually didn’t take the ODS seriously, but rather behaved in a cooperative manner as the only strategy left for former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek, and now he is hoping the public will believe Topolánek wasn’t willing to compromise or negotiate. Topolánek, on the other hand, believes that Paroubek’s reputation for blocking everything will stick with him forever.

So what will happen now? Klaus will name another government (similar to the one we have now). The government will ask for a vote of confidence and, if they win it, they will govern — although such a minority government has no chance of pushing through any meaningful reforms. If the ODS loses it, then ČSSD member Miloslav Vlček, the speaker of the lower house who picks the next PM since it is the third time, will either resign or will be voted out with the help of ČSSD defector Miloš Melčák — and maybe others.

If the ODS wins and names the lower chamber speaker, the new speaker can pick someone to form a government that’s intended to quickly fail — then we get to early elections.

But what if Vlček doesn’t resign? Then Paroubek will get a third attempt at forming a government. But before Paroubek has the confidence vote, he will first fire all the people that the ODS hired as replacements for all the ČSSD-connected people who were fired. In effect, the country will end up in a state of nonviolent (Czechs are always nonviolent) civil war.

It seems Topolánek believes that people should love him for believing his life mission is to not strike a deal with Paroubek.

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