>Czech elections: More new old politics


The Czech elections are on the horizon and they promise to be interesting, if, as ever, deadlocked and inconclusive. They should perhaps tell catetaker Prime Minister Fischer and his government of technocrats not to packs their bags just yet.

Over at Pozorblog Kevin Deegan Krause has crunched all the Czech poll numbers and it comes down to this: the Social Democrats are ahead and will win (well, get most votes and seats) but are rapidly shedding support, although not as fast or as quickly as the centre-right Civic Democrats, whose support is being eaten into by two new parties: TOP09 of aristo-anti-politician Karel Schwarzenberg (and sundry old stagers from the Christian Democratic party, who are mainly keeping out of sight, having written a toughly pro-market programme) and Public Affairs (Věci veřejné – better translated as Res Publica) fronted by ex-TV investigative journalist Radek John, which was once a Prague-based local citizens grouping (there are many at muncipal level) but through fantastic PR, mysteriously large amount of cash, great use of social media to mobilize sympathises, and a clever (but content-lite) anti-establishment liberal programme stressing anti-corruption and direct democracy, has transformed into a national contender with poll ratings around 10 per cent. Both VV and TOP (with somewhat higher ratings) seem set to enter parliament.

The Communists – like death and taxes – are always with us and will come in with 10-15 per cent, leaving the big question, both for the outcome of the election and for me personally, whether the Christian Democrats – conspicuous by their limited and lacklustre campaign will make it over the 5 per cent hurdle. If they do, as Kevin Deegan-Krause’s simulation shows we will probably get a deadlocked parliament – unless ODS can close the gap with the Social Democrats more convincingly than seems likely – if not then the Social Democrats are numerically well placed to govern as a minority government with the tacit support of the Communists, except that dear of old President Klaus (himself elected as a Head of State in 2003 with the support of Communist deputies) entertain the possibility, leaving Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek facing the prospect of negotiating some kind of deal with Civic Democrats (neither side is keen – and a Grand Coalition has been ruled out by ODS) or – if he’s lucky – pulling on board the motley crew of Public Affairs deputies, who will quickly forget that they called him a political dinosaur and promised not to have anything to do with him once they get a whiff of power.

There have been no polls for the past few days due to legal restictions, but my prediction based on the excellent Pozorblog analysis and some guesswork is that Social Democrat – Civic Democrat gap will be a little narrower than predicted, the Communists every so slightly higher, Public Affairs appreciably lower (despite the hype and upward, there are enough doubts about who they are and what they stand for for voters to have doubts and go for the less groovy TOP or the wholly ungroovy ODS). TOP I suspect will come in slightly lower than predicted. And the Christian Democrats? I have bet 10 euros – yes, Brit followers of Czech and Slovak politics , you can bet online on CEE elections – that they will not make it into parliament (odds of about 2-1 although UK bookmakers seem to have stopped taking bets on the Czech elections, although you can have punt on Slovakia) but my instinct is that these great political survivors will use their extensive local scrape enough of their loyal core Catholic electorate to the polls to live to fight another day. And, of course, pundits are always wrong.

So my election guess

Social Democrats 27%
Civic Democrats 23%
Communist 13.5 – 14.0%
TOP09 12%
VV 8%
Christian Democrats 6%

In terms of Kevin Deegan Krause’s elegant and beautiful coalition predicting diagram (above), I seem to be predicting a centre-right majority (105/200) seats, although my feeling is that it might be more 102-3 seats, as I am guessing that TOP09 and especially VV will do less well than the polls suggest. In pratice, such a four party coalition with a narrow majority and a wounded and fractious ODS would be an unstable and difficult to manage entity, so deadlock whichever which you choose it. Czechs might do better of Messrs. Paroubek and Nečas could discover the virtues of Grand Coalitional politics – perhaps invited Schwarzenberg et al on board – and become the Clegg and Cameron of Czech politics, leaving populism and anti-establishment opposition to the Communists and Věckáři who are very good at it.

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