Saturday, May 29, 2010

Czech leftists lose the general election

Left-wing parties

22.1% socialists
11.3% communists

total: 33.4% or 57+25=82 deputies

Right-wing parties

20.2% civic democrats
16.7% TOP 09
10.9% public affairs

total: 48.2% or 51+41+25=117 deputies (sorry, I know 199 is not 200, not clear where's the 200th chair)

Great. The leftists have lost. The right-wing parties will form a coalition government which will be the first mostly consistent government since 1990 that didn't depend on a few deputies - a convenient majority.

The generally hated dictatorial fat chairman of the socialists, Joe Quimby Paroubek, has just resigned because he expected to win a huge majority but his chances to enter the government are pretty much zero. It's widely expected that the new leader of the second strongest party, the center-right Civic Democrats, namely plasma physicist Petr Nečas will be the new prime minister of a purely right-wing and pretty strong coalition.

My essay about the results (in Czech, EN).

Translation from Czech

Czech right-wingers benefit from a newly thrown dice

This year's parliamentary elections have somewhat unexpectedly transformed the Czech political spectrum more dramatically than any other polls since 1990 when the Czechoslovak electorate chose a non-communist government for the first time in more than 40 years. For two decades, the Czech democracy was used to a narrow contest between ODS (civic democrats) and ČSSD (social democrats), two key parties initially linked to the names of Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman. These two parties were teaming up with other, smaller parties before they created extremely narrow majorities. The fate of such coalitions was written in the stars and depended on subtle mood swings of a few individuals.



Mr Petr Nečas, a plasma physicist and the likely future prime minister

However, Saturday's results showed that both ČSSD and ODS have weakened considerably - both relatively to the previous elections as well as the recent pre-election estimates: the latter statement especially holds for ČSSD. The Communists preserved their hard core and their result is similar to the figures we have known for years (except for 2002 when they surpassed 18 percent): it was not enough for them to stay among the three strongest parties. The experiment of the Green Party ended analogously as the experiment of the far-right "Republican" party of Mr Sládek which terminated a decade ago. For a couple of years, both parties would enhance the diversity of the lower chamber. However, it's likely that no one will miss them. The Green Party has even failed to reach the three-percent threshold needed to get a financial subsidy from the government: among the extra-parliamentary parties, only Zeman's Party of Citizens' Rights, Ms Jana Bobošíková's Sovereignty, and the Christian Democratic Union - Czechoslovak People's Party (KDU-ČSL) - managed to win this money.

However, the main change concerns the Public Affairs, TOP 09, and KDU-ČSL. The last party in this shortlist, the People's Party, has been an integral part of the "National Front" during communism, a conglomerate of non-communist parties that fully supported the communists' leading role in the society. Even after the Velvet Revolution, it seemed almost inevitable that the People's Party would have to act as a "glue" in any past or future coalition government. (That has only failed to be the case once, during the "Opposition Agreement" years when ČSSD "tolerated" the minority government of ODS.) However, this political omnipresence and ill-definedness has become legendary. For quite some time, KDU-ČSL hasn't defended any particular opinions, values, plans, and ideals and it has become a party that considers everyone else to be "extreme". It was hard to figure out what it meant to be "non-extreme" and why it should be a good thing for the citizen.

The voters decided that the Czech political scene no longer needed such a colorless party. For KDU-ČSL, the lethal blow came when it split during the birth of a new party, Tradition-Responsibility-Prosperity 2009 (TOP 09), one year ago. Much like during the decay of the Civic Forum in the early 1990s, when a more right-wing and more sharply well-defined Civic Democratic Party (ODS) crystallized within the Civic Forum, also TOP 09 has quickly become a more successful "branch" of the old KDU-ČSL party than the remainder of the party itself. Do you remember how the Civic Movement (OH) abruptly became irrelevant in comparison to ODS, despite (and maybe because) it included a far wider selection of intellectuals and politicians and their ideals? TOP 09 may resemble the original KDU-ČSL in some ways but it is also a clear champion of certain particular principles such as the fiscal responsibility. Let's add its aristocratic charm and it's not too hard to see why TOP 09 quickly became a valuable brand on the Czech political market.

TOP 09 has become the main de facto winner of the elections. In this sense, the polls confirmed the virtual polls organized among the students and the Internet users. In both cases, the TOP 09 party would become the absolute winner. (TOP 09 has also become the numerical winner in Prague: note that the young, Internet users, and modern people in the capital are the same demographics that were "in" and voted for Obama in the U.S.: in Czechia, the same people vote for a somewhat feudal conservative party haha.) The second main de facto winner of the elections are the Public Affairs (VV), a party of the TV investigative journalists. It is offering many attractive things but it is also unquestionably building on certain populist methods - especially on the nurturing and using of the general lack of satisfaction with all the people "on the top" and their allegedly omnipresent corruptness. On the other hand, VV also defend some or many right-wing attitudes. One may say that it's mainly due to VV (and, to a lesser extent, thanks to Zeman's SPOZ party that has stolen 4+ percent from the contemporary social democrats) that lots of dissatisfied voters have switched from the Left to the Right, and it happened in a more acceptable and more numerically significant way than when the "wild social democrats" were switching to Sládek's far-right Republicans in the 1990s. We have to believe that the dissatisfied and angry people won't affect our politics too much.

To summarize, the Parliament will welcome five parties. Three of them will be partly or completely right-wing parties. It's clear that the Left won't get a majority this time; in fact, it's very far from a majority. (The communists have also failed to earn a "medal" for the first time: they're the fourth strongest party and they were just 0.4% away from being the fifth strongest party.) The result of social democrats and communists is 22.1+11.3=33.4 percent, while ODS, TOP 09, and VV on the right have 20.2+16.7+11.3=48.2 percent of the votes which is much higher than 33.4%. (The deputies are 117:83 or 118:82 in favor of the Right.) The final figures won't differ from these temporary ones by more than 0.1% or so.

The Party of Free Citizens (SSO), which is our counterpart of the UKIP, hasn't managed to get to the Parliament with its 0.7% of the votes. And about 20 additional parties suffered the same defeat. For many of us, it is a disappointing outcome. Others will feel happy about it. However, the fate of the Czech Republic will be mainly determined by the five winners.

I think that the Czech electorate should be praised for its relative political maturity. It has resisted the populist sweeties and has only bought them from their retailers for a small percentage of its votes. It's not hard to guess the further development. Unless the social democrats accept that their position is hopeless, and they will give up all attempts to form a government immediately, then Mr Bohuslav Sobotka, the new acting leader of the social democrats - which numerically won - after Mr Jiří Paroubek's resignation, will be asked to create a government by President Klaus. It would be optimal for him to invite TOP 09 and VV to the coalition because ČSSD would remain the main player of the coalition, while inviting two unconfrontational and relatively popular "buddies" to the team. However, these two small parties are going to reject the offer again. And so will ODS which could only create the "grand coalition" with the social democrats. By the way, such a grand coalition wouldn't boast a constitutional majority this time - a detail we have considered for granted. Also, ODS and ČSSD may forget about all plans for a U.S.-inspired majority election system. Even if they introduced one, they wouldn't necessarily be the two parties that would control it.

Because ČSSD and the communists don't have enough votes to make a majority government - neither an open (and therefore forbidden, by the social democratic internal rules) nor a masked coalition in any way - the leader of the 2nd strongest party, right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS) Petr Nečas, will eventually be assigned the task to construct a new government, and he will do so with TOP 09 and VV. After many years, it will be possible to create a government that doesn't depend on 1 - and not even 15 - potential "traitors". All of us should therefore be satisfied. I hope that after some time, even the voters of the communists and the socialists will realize the positive character of this result. Aside from other threats, Czechia is likely to avoid the spiraling debt; fiscal conservativeness is the most striking intersection of the three right-wing parties' plans. We have good reasons to believe that the danger of a national default will remain an abstract alarm at least for several years: it's not a realistic issue we will face.

To wrap up, we have to appreciate that democracy brings numerous surprises both to politicians and the voters. This year's parliamentary elections have demonstrated that the overall character of the democratic country's politics is not determined and constant forever. It makes sense to vote. And that's certainly a good lesson to learn.

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