Czech politicians run a dirty election campaign that shies away from issues; all parties have a chance to get in government

 

  • Former Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek resigned as president of the ODS April 1 after coming under fire for some unfortunate remarks about Jews and gays. His replacement will be former Labour Minister Petr Nečas, who is leading the ODS’s list in the May 28-29 elections.
  • ČSSD leader Jiří Paroubek suggested that his party and the ODS should agree to conduct an above-the-belt election campaign. Nečas declined, saying the offer could not be taken seriously since the Social Democrats themselves do not abide by such conduct.
  • Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb stepped down at the request of the Green Party, which withdrew its support for Prime Minister Jan Fischer’s caretaker government on March 22. The Greens decided to bolt the coalition after Environment Minister Jan Dusik stepped down amid disagreements about the government’s plan to modernize a coal-fired power plant.
  • The ODS announced they, too, would withdraw their ministers from the government if they are not given the cabinet seats freed up by the Greens. ODS leaders say they do not want to prop up a government in which the Social Democrats occupy a majority of cabinet posts.
  • The ČSSD unveiled its election programme: They plan to transform the Czech Republic into a country whose standard of living is among the top 10 in the EU. Paroubek said a Social Democrat-led administration would raise taxes on the wealthy and on corporations and would abolish healthcare fees. The ČSSD leader also promised to pay one-time bonus to pensioners (this tactic worked for the Hungarian Socialist Party in the 2002 election). At the same time, the Social Democrats are also talking about lowering the budget deficit and adopting the euro by 2016. The ODS labelled the ČSSD’s promises as lies, while TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg said the pledges would be impossible to fulfil. Meanwhile, Communist MP Pavel Kovacik said the Social Democrats were trying to "dig a moat" between themselves and his party.
  • The ODS presented its programme entitled "Vision 2020" in February. The manifesto says the government needs to take tough decisions on cutting state spending. The ODS also proposes to lower the deficit to less than 3% of GDP by 2012, which would allow the Czechs to adopt the euro in 2015.
  • Miloš Zeman has been elected chairman of the new Citizens' Rights Party, which seeks to provide an alternative for disaffected left-wing voters.
  • President Vaclav Klaus asked voters to cast their ballots wisely and not to vote for parties just because of their novelty.
  • Former President Vaclav Havel is publicly supporting the Green Party. Havel and dozens of other intellectuals signed a letter saying Czech politics needed "green" politicians who are untouched by corruption scandals.

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk

 

The main parties agree that they have to handle challenges such as the growing state debt, the budget deficit and inevitable structural reforms prudently. At the same time, their campaigns offer barely any concrete details on how they would accomplish such goals. Similarly, Hungary’s Fidesz party, the all-but-certain winner of the country’s April elections, has not revealed much about its plans, either, so the “mystery program” is by no means an oddity in the region. But unlike in Hungary, the Czech race is wide open; new political formations may enter Parliament or even join the government. It is also cannot be ruled out that the Communists will team up with the Social Democrats, taking a role in government for the first time since communism collapsed 20 years ago.

 

Social Democrat Chairman Paroubek said he would prefer a coalition with one of the centrist parties. Should they fail to reach a majority in Parliament, the ČSSD may consider forming a minority cabinet with outside support from the Communists, he said. This can be interpreted as the first step toward direct cooperation between the ČSSD and the Communists on the national level; the two parties are already cooperating in coalitions in some regional authorities. A grand coalition between the ČSSD and the ODS is also a possibility. Since the situation after the elections may not be clear-cut, long coalition negotiations are expected in June.