Tales from Suburban Bohemia: Czech Politics
This post originally appeared on Stumpy Moose on 9 February, 2002, and was migrated to PraguePig.com on 13 January, 2019.
Working as a journalist in Prague I’m occasionally compelled to take an interest in the Czech political scene.
I deeply resent this, seeing it as a distraction from bigger considerations, like why you suddenly can’t get tortilla chips in Prague and whether Strokes tickets will have sold out by the time pay day comes around.
Last week, however, the dates for the general election were announced, making politics hard to ignore.
I’ve already seen two of those billboard campaigns that ad agencies always seem to palm off on their clients in the run-up to an election. You know, the ones with the slogan “Vote [Insert Product Name Here]!”
It isn’t quite election fever but we’re getting there.
It won’t be long before party activists are driving up and down the streets of downtown Prague mumbling incomprehensible slogans at shoppers through loudspeakers.
The current political situation is a little bizarre. The left-of-centre Social Democrats’ minority government is kept in power thanks to an “opposition agreement” with the right-of-centre Civic Democrats.
In Britain this would be equivalent to the Conservatives keeping a Labour government in power.
One reason for this is that no one will do a deal with the Communists, who still get a fair bit of support. (The other reason is that, for historical reasons, the Civic Democrat leaders hate some of the smaller right-wing parties even more than they hate the Social Democrats, but if I went into the details of that we’d be here all day.)
The current prime minister is Milos Zeman, who’s fond of a drink or two, resembles a lemur and has a tendency to speak his mind a little too freely. He’s retiring at the next election and seems to be trying to insult as many people as possible before he goes. He’s already upset the Austrians and now seems to have moved onto the Germans.
The Civic Democrats are led by Vaclav Klaus, a slippery Thatcherite who was prime minister himself prior to Zeman.
Somewhere in the middle lie the remains of the Quad Coalition, four smaller centre-right parties who tried to provide an alternative to the “opposition agreement” parties by forming one big party.
That didn’t work so well, and just a couple of days after the election was announced the whole thing collapsed. Two of those parties have since got together again, under the slightly sinister name Coalition.
The collapse of the Quads makes it more likely than ever that either the Social Democrats or the Civic Democrats will form the next government after the June elections.
Based on nothing more than a hunch, I think that Klaus’s Civic Democrats will claw their way back into power.
Even by politicians’ standards, Klaus is breathtakingly arrogant and he seems to be a bit of a crook to boot but the vagueness of Czech politics should keep him or whoever else wins in check.
The winner is unlikely to win an overall majority and will have to rely on a whole bunch of backroom dealing and consensus building.
The dust will settle and I’ll go back to more important thoughts.