Archive | December, 2008

>Topolánek: Kant go on like this

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Czech PM Miroslav Topolánek kicks off the congress of the ruling Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the most crucial in years. He’s a competent, but not very inspiring speaker. The speech itself is no masterpiece, but when read off is effective, clear and to the point. The party’s meeting on the outskirts of Prague is symbolic of its marginalization in Czech politics (echoes of the Communist Party’s last Central Committee meeting in November 1989 before the regime’s collapse?). The party needs to find a strategy not for just election victory, but to create a sustainable Czech right-wing in the long term. It meeds to discuss the reasons for its thumping defeat in regional and Senate elections in an open, but civilized way. The debate should be between those who want to stay in ODS, not those who are planning to leave. Anyone who doesn’t like the realities can leave – if, as expected, he retains his leadership of the party, some probably will.
There’s also some vapid stuff about Christian values, including a quite from Kant (has Topol been reading the seer of Koenigsburg? or do I detect a speechwriter at work?) suggesting that Topolánek may be inclining to some revamp of the idea – in circulation since the mid-1990s – of making ODS a sort of centrist secular Christian Democratic party. This impression is reinforced by the call for ‘balance’ – classic trope in Czech political discourse – between realism and idealism, liberalism and conservatism, ‘heart and head’. A very similar slogan (rozum a srdce) was used under Klaus in 1998, but Topolánek’s stress on listening to what Czech citizens really want (i.e. not a triple helping of market forces and euroscepticism) suggests he see the need for the former, rational pragmatism, not the stoking of the ideological passions Václav Klaus wants to keep burning.

Anyone who doesn’t fancy tough choices and a difficult path, Topolánek concludes, can go elsewhere. One man who has sort of followed this advice is indeed VK.The Czech President, contrary to reports, will be turning up at the congress, gives a speech tomorrow morning. Expect something subtly poisonous and, who knows, a call for a new party?

>Klaus thinktank ‘uninvited’ from ODS congress

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And, in a sign of the times, Václav Klaus’s thinktank the Centre For Economics and Politics (CEPin) has, it seems, been uninvited from the forthcoming ODS congress because of its director’s intention to found a new eurosceptic party (but not one called Libertas.cz). Slightly odd, as the thinktank is technically not an ODS party body and CEPin director, Petr Mach, as an ODS member should surely be subject to sanction as an individual for such a breach of party discipline. Of course, we only have Mach’s word that CEPin is personna non gratia at the congress – and, as all these tales of second splinter parties do have an air of disinformation about them, a pinch or three of salt may be in order – but the CEPin logo has been purged from the ODS website’s list of loosely affiliated organizations.

>Romanian elections: the dust settles

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As the dust settles on the Romania elections, it becomes clear that the Democrat Liberals (PDL) have done rather better than predicted, running the Social Democrats (PSD) a very close second in terms of the popular vote. The kingmakers are the third placed National Liberals (PSD), who should, if ideology means anything, ally with the PDL, but whose relations with the presidentially sponsored party are so bad that they could equally work with the PSD, apparently. The only other party to make it over the electoral threshold is the Hungarian minority party (UDMR).

The far right Greater Romania Party (PRM) is dumped out of parliament adding to a trend across the region for radical nationalists to be less than electorally resilient and, perhaps as as a consequence, to fade out of the region’s political systems, although the political comeback of the Slovak National Party in 2006 shows that it ain’t necessarily so. The big unresolved question is , of course, how global economic recession will crunch CEE political systems, but the tendency of extreme populists and radical nationalists to flop as larger blocs hoover up votes (also seen in Poland in 2007 and Croatia last year) suggests that the usual predictions of a return to atavistic extremism again may be wide of the mark. More telling perhaps was the record low turnout of around 40%.

The final talking point is the new electoral system, a complex mixture of majoritarian single member district and (where – as in most cases – no one wins 50%+ in a SMD) proportional allocation of seats within larger electoral districts. The complex bit seems to be that the ranking of candidates for these proportionately distributed seats is done not by the parties themselves, but on the basis of a candidate’s vote in his/her SMD. You can thus be elected to represent an SMD if you are one of your party’s best perfomers in the region, even if you came a long way behind other candidates in the SMD. So for example, Ludovic Orban (PNL mayoral candidate in Bucharest in June) got 28% of the vote in one constituency but will become its Deputy despite being out-polled by the PSD and the PDL candidates in the constituency) his vote was one of best by a PNL candidate in that sector of the capital, so he is one of the first in line for that party’s share of the seats redistributed on a PR basis within that sector. PIt is not quite clear happens if two candidates get the highest vote for their party in the same constituency. PSD leaders with more of a local power base /levers of patronage to pull seem more often to have got into parliament via the 50% rule than leaders of either of the two Liberal groups.

For this example and explanation I am endebted to Ed Maxfield.The Romanian electoral commission’s swanky website, which zooms in and out of an interactive map, shows which party won which SMD, but as far as detailed voting figures were concerned all I got was a Rezultatele nu sunt disponibile. That at least I did understand.